How much responsibility do we have to friends & family who are struggling?

Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

The fourth chapter of Genesis, the first book of the Judeo-Christian Bible, tells about the first two brothers in the Bible, Cain and Abel.

Although not detailed in this passage, apparently God had given some specific instructions about a particular gift each of the brothers was to bring to Him.

Abel followed instructions. Cain didn’t. God basically told Abel, “Great job, thanks.” His response to Cain was more like, “Not cool, dude.”

Cain was not happy.

Next comes the first murder in the Bible. Yes, Cain killed his brother, Abel.

The next day God came to Cain and asked where Abel was. Being more than a little defensive, Cain asked God the now famous words, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Growing up, I heard many sermons preached on this passage. I have to admit, I have no idea what point any of those preachers was trying to make. I know they weren’t telling us don’t murder your brother. That one’s too obvious. I just always lost the train of thought.

But today I’m pondering this question and wondering, “Am I my brother’s — or sister’s — keeper?”

What does it mean today? If my brother and sister are my friends and acquaintances, even the entire human race, how far does “keeping” go? Just how responsible am I? How responsible are you? How responsible are we?

There are a lot of places we could go with these questions. We could talk about homelessness or hunger. We could talk about the current crisis at the U.S/Mexico border. We could talk about maternal mortality in the U.S and how people of color are disproportionately affected. We could talk about a myriad other humanitarian issues worldwide.

But let’s talk about something a little closer. Let’s talk about people who are a little closer. Let’s talk about the people in our lives who are struggling. Maybe it’s depression. Or alcoholism. Or drug addiction. Or another form of mental illness.

How much responsibility do we have for these people?

Is it dependent upon our degree of relationship?

Are we more or less responsible based upon whether that person is a family member, or a friend, or maybe someone we just know casually?

How much responsibility do we have to reach out? To offer help? To suggest assistance? Or therapy? Or rehab? Or maybe just offer to sit and listen and be there for that person when no one else seems to be willing anymore?

What if our phone call or text message or PM was the one that kept that person alive a little longer?

This time last week, I was sitting in the chapel of a funeral home listening to a preacher talk about the life of a woman I have known for over 16 years.

Her son and my oldest started Kindergarten together and have been close friends ever since. My son has spent many, many hours in her home. She was like a second mother to him at times.

About five years ago, she had a back injury that required several surgeries and left her with chronic pain. Difficulties with pain meds, depression, and eventually alcohol followed.

I connected with her occasionally via email and social media, but she tended to turn down invitations to get together. Our contact became less and less frequent.

About three months ago, we made plans to meet for coffee. She canceled at the last minute and admitted that she had been drinking. She declined my offer to reschedule.

A couple of weeks ago, I started thinking about her. She was on my mind, and I just kept thinking, “I need to get in touch and see how she’s doing.” But it was a busy week, and I procrastinated.

My son called me the following Monday. She had been on a drinking binge over the weekend and had a bad fall resulting in a traumatic head injury Sunday evening. She didn’t make it through to Monday morning.

After I got off the phone with him, I sobbed with sorrow and guilt.

As a Christian, I believe in the Trinity — God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.

I believe the Holy Spirit is that internal voice that talks to me and prompts me. Those with other belief systems have different names for it. You may think of it simply as instinct or “that gut feeling.”

Whatever you want to call it, it was speaking to me — and I chose to ignore it. I put it off. I procrastinated. And now my friend is dead.

Do I think it’s my fault? Am I responsible for what happened?


Do I think it might have made a difference if someone — anyone — I — had reached out?


Am I my sister’s keeper?

Mother, Writer, Optimist

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