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A kind word meant everything to Carolyn Hax as her mom battled ALS

Carolyn Hax and her mother, who battled ALS decades ago.
Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax and her mother, who battled ALS decades ago.

This story is part of the My Unsung Hero series from the Hidden Brain team about people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.

Several decades ago, Carolyn Hax's mother was dying of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

"Anybody who knows anything about that knows it's awful," Hax said. "It's just awful watching somebody wither while their mind stays perfectly clear."

Hax, an advice columnist for The Washington Post, was struggling. But she continued to work throughout her mother's decline.

"I didn't miss even a week of work. But I think I probably lost about 20 pounds... I must've looked haunted," Hax remembered.

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One day, a colleague she didn't know very well stopped by to chat. He did so again a few days later and continued to check in over email and in person.

"I probably didn't put it together completely, that this person was there to look out for me, until after I got better, after I got stronger," Hax recalled.

"It was purely overtures of friendship. There was no angling for professional advantage. There was no romantic interest. 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."

Hax often hears from readers who are struggling like she was, and offers this bit of advice: Be sure to notice that there are people in your life who want to help.

"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," Hax said. "But I think having kind people come forward to help you through something difficult will help turn that pain into compassion later."

My Unsung Hero is also a podcast — new episodes are released every Tuesday and Thursday. To share the story of your unsung hero with the Hidden Brain team, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to

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Brigid McCarthy
Autumn Barnes