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Just checking in: a grieving daughter's unsung hero

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Time now for "My Unsung Hero," our series from the team at Hidden Brain. "My Unsung Hero" tells the stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else. And today's story comes from Washington Post columnist Carolyn Hax. When she was 34, Hax was living on her own and having a hard time.

CAROLYN HAX: It was when my mom was sick. My mom died of ALS. And anybody who knows anything about that knows it's awful. It's just awful watching somebody wither while their mind stays perfectly clear. And so I was just struggling, but I was still working. Actually, through the whole thing, I didn't miss even a week of work. But I was - I think I probably lost about 20 pounds and was just - I must have looked haunted or something. But a colleague who wasn't normally in my group of friends, who I didn't work with directly just started checking in on me, just, you know, stopping by to say hi and then, you know, every once in a while just shooting me an email. And sometimes it was chatty stuff, and sometimes it was, hey; how you doing? And it was purely overtures of friendship. There was no angling for professional advantage. There was no romantic interest. It was just a remarkable act of grace, I think. It was just this person who had an idea of what your normal was and was able to detect that things weren't normal and that maybe the world needed to be a little bit kinder to you in that moment.

Actually, I'm choking up talking about it because it is so - it is such a profound thing that we can do for each other. I probably didn't put together completely that this person was there to look out for me until after I got better, after I got stronger. And then this person just sort of retreated back into the original place in my life and remained there. And that was the signal that I got that this was sort of the world taking care of itself. In general, our hardest times are what make us the most compassionate. And sometimes the hardest times can also make us bitter, and they can make us angry. But I think having kind people come forward to help you through something difficult will help turn that pain into compassion later.

CHANG: Carolyn Hax. She lives near Cape Cod, Mass., and writes a popular advice column that appears in newspapers all across the country. You can find more stories from "My Unsung Hero" wherever you get your podcasts. And to share the story of your unsung hero, record a voice memo on your phone, and email it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.