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Spring 1992 · Vol. 21 No. 1 · pp. 73–76 

Receiving Care in Crisis Situations: A Personal Crisis

Darlene Driedger [Klassen]

It was two years later, and as I drove down the lane towards the house, the images flashed before my mind’s eye. The garage still stood, with the huge elk antlers hanging between the doors. The house waited silently. Even trees stood a silent guard, giving only a hint of the silence they had witnessed; a silence all the more thundering because of the laughter that had gone before.

Had I been on the yard that day, I could have joined them, joined the wooden structures witnessing a small red plane faltering, then diving out of sight behind the trees of the front yard. Yet the wooden structures remained standing. They were not jarred as I was jarred by the impact of the earth breaking the wings that carried him. We had been married five years and one week. His flying lessons were to help us prepare for our projected venture into missions in northern Ontario.


The supporting network began to fall into place that same night, as news of Dan’s death went out on the phone lines and via radio. {74}

The entire experience of the “watch” which occurred between the time of Dan’s crash until after the funeral was an overwhelming one in many ways. Friends came to the hospital to stand beside me, and they were with us almost constantly from that point. There were those who simply came to sit. Others brought food for the family. Some made sure the necessary phone calls were made. Offers were made to care for my children. Some came into the house, while others stopped only long enough to deliver letters, or tapes to the mailbox. Some stayed away, knowing there would be a time soon when the rush would be over. Later, after the funeral, the nature of the caring network changed. Help came in the form of tractors to mow the lawn, hands to weed my garden, an offer to custom clean and check my car. The flood of mail continued. Phone calls were less frequent and much more tentative. I found it frightening, and yet a relief, to be given time alone to begin to process the horror of the previous days.


How is it possible to care effectively in crisis? How intentional should a community be in considering how best to offer care? Is care acceptable in whatever form it comes? To some extent, I would say that through the pain of those days even awkward expressions of sympathy were legitimate ways of caring. The numbers of people who came and went during the first few days were a constant reminder that we were not bearing this pain without the love and prayers of friends.

Yet it is also true that some expressions of care were more readily perceived as caregiving than others. Some gestures transmitted energy to a system whose resources in crisis were limited, while others required energy from that system. The question then becomes what gestures of care and concern will conserve or replenish energy, and which gestures will deplete the limited supply.

I would identify two factors which affected my perception of the care given. One of these were my emotions, which were extremely volatile, especially in the first weeks. A well-meaning comment had unbelievable power to incite fury, while that same comment in a different context a few days or even hours later would feel soothing.

A second factor was the stage of my grief. In the first week {75}, energy was so intensely focused upon dealing with the pain of loss, that it was hardly possible to deal with the task of survival. My stomach churned at the thought of eating, and there was an invisible hand at my throat preventing any food from going down; sleep was denied the first night, and mornings dawned with the realization that the nightmare had not gone away; a physical pain like a vice around the heart was an ever present sensation.

Some of the things that gave me energy in the initial stages were: 1) The presence of close friends and family. They knew me well, and demanded nothing of me. I did not have to cry in response to their tears when my well had gone dry. I did not have to say an appropriate word. 2) Cards and taped messages. I could read and listen to these messages when I was ready for them, and once again nothing was demanded of me in return. I did not have to thank someone, or cry in front of someone, or respond in any way. It conserved energy. 3) Time alone to deal with the loss.

I would identify my move back to my own home as the beginning of a second stage of grieving. It was now necessary to begin to deal with the survival of my family of three. As others continued to help with many household responsibilities, I began to put energy into trying to salvage my family as a functioning unit. I also put energy into figuring out how to live with this all-engulfing hole in our lives.

The energy resources of a person or family in crisis has for me become a critical issue to deal with when considering the care of someone in crisis. What is the primary focus of their energy at this time? How would it be possible to build their reserves, or to conserve the energy they do have? Are you an appropriate person for the task at this time? Is there another way to help them conserve their limited reserves, perhaps by your taking care of responsibilities which do not require direct contact?

I have since become somewhat frustrated with the difficulty I have felt in extending care to others who have experienced pain. It is possible to be handicapped by the fear of saying something wrong, or of doing something that would inflict a greater pain.

As I look back over the past two years, perhaps one of the greatest gifts given to me was the permission to grieve as I needed to grieve. When I was allowed to say what I needed to {76} say, to throw what needed to be thrown, to laugh when there was occasion to laugh, and to cry with those who could share my pain, I felt cared for. Care was also extended by those who gave me permission to begin again to enter into life even though, when that plane hit the ground, half of me disappeared, and even though the silence sometimes still thunders around me.

Darlene Driedger (now Klassen) from Brandon, Manitoba, is enrolled in the Master of Divinity program at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno.

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