Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace:
Family stuck together in crisis

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the April 6, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Mary Cronk Farrell I marveled when I read recently about the family of campers lost for 17 days in the snowy mountains of Oregon. Upon rescue, one of the six family members said, “I’m so proud of my family. They stuck together. They didn’t lose it.” Apparently the parents, grandparents and two children rationed food, shared jokes and held out hope.

We’d all like to believe our families could weather a crisis without “losing it.” We hope we would act with compassion and understanding in times of trouble: communicate well, think clearly, encourage one another, trust God and maintain hope. But if your family is like mine, it’s hard enough to hold it together through a regular day. I cannot predict how we’d fare in a crisis.

I was reminded recently in a conversation after Mass with Father John Rompa: It’s not a matter of if your family will have a crisis, but when. All families sooner or later face challenging times. The trouble may stem from death or illness of a family member, loss of job, financial woes, relationship stresses, or a combination of pressures.

I wondered if there are strategies or skills a family can cultivate in order to cope well when crisis hits, so I called St. Joseph Family Center, which has a record of helping families in crisis here in Spokane. The center focuses on healing holistically – that is, through integration of mind, body and spirit in relationship to others. Tom Schmidt, a family therapist at St. Joseph, says the problem is that what skills we may have, such as good communication, desert us in a crisis.

“Whenever we get under stress, we don’t process our thoughts very well. The part of the brain that processes language shuts off. That’s why it’s important to get help. You need a good ally then,” says Schmidt. “Support systems help, and if you don’t have it, you need to develop it. Ask for help.” 

The most important quality a family can have that aids in time of trouble is resilience. Schmidt says families with resilience have a close, secure attachment that allows family members to approach each other with their needs, their fears and their joys and be accepted and safe.

“What family members need to do is pay attention to their own feelings, and pay attention to the feelings of the others, and to accept those feelings. Blame is irrelevant. You find a lot of families in crisis they start blaming the other.  Listening to the other and thinking, ‘What do we need to do to get out of this crisis?’ is what’s important,” says Schmidt.

He uses the Gospel story of the prodigal son as an example of how to foster resilience. The father sees the son coming back, and he doesn’t question or shame, but runs toward the son ready to accept him. “This is a wonderful image of what needs to go on in families,” says Schmidt.

Ideally, resilience would exist before crisis. In truth, it often takes serious trouble for a family to realize change is needed. If a family finds they are “losing it” they need not despair.

After all, Jesus’ disciples “lost it” when confronted with tough times. They fell asleep while their beloved friend worked through his options alone in the Garden of Gethsemane. Some of them fled at Jesus’ arrest and trial, while Peter followed at a distance and then denied knowing him. Even later, after Jesus had risen from the dead, we read about Thomas doubting. Only the bare bones of this story come across in St. John’s version, but any parent can read between the lines: This was like many a dinner table argument between siblings, only to be settled with absolute proof.      

Reflecting on the Gospel stories of holy week and Easter, we see that Jesus’ disciples grew in courage and faith as they went through crisis. Our families can, too.

© 2006, Mary Cronk Farrell

(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and children’s writer. Her latest book, Celebrating Faith: Year-Round Activities for Catholic Families, has been published by St. Anthony Messenger Press. Contact her at

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