When sports writer Dave McKenna lost his mother in 2011, he got some support from an unexpected source.

In a video for Deadspin published in June 2018, McKenna spoke frankly about the suffering that accompanies such a staggering loss.

"It was to experience a level of grief that was almost exhilarating," he recounted. "Like nothing I'd ever been through."


McKenna also knew that he'd have to keep going, so one day he went to a coffee shop in D.C. to get his work done. 15 minutes in, a man interrupted him and told him he'd need to check his bag.

The reason? The president of the United States would soon be coming to see him.

"How did he know I was here?" McKenna joked to a fellow patron. But President Barack Obama really was on his way. A friend of McKenna's, Jay Carney, Obama's spokesperson at the time, had told the president about McKenna.

When Obama entered the coffee shop, he made a beeline for McKenna.

"He put his hand out," McKenna tears up, "and says, 'Jay told me about you. I went through this myself. You may not know this, you may not understand this, but things will get better. You can't believe this now, but they will get better."

McKenna had felt isolated in his grief, but Obama's words helped change that for him.

McKenna felt he would have to face his grief by himself. He'd seen other people go through the loss of a parent or loved one, and he understood that the world doesn't stop for anyone's pain.

Moments like the one between McKenna and Obama, though, remind us that we're not alone.

It's important to remember how meaningful it is when people show up for us in our moments of pain.

What Obama did was thoughtful and compassionate and shows that even the smallest kindness can help us heal. Not everyone has a president on speed dial, but that doesn't mean we can't show up for our friends, relatives, and extended social network during difficult times.

It doesn't take much — a phone call, a text, a workday lunch — to remind others we care, see all they are going through, and are here to support them no matter what.

With time and kindness, things really can get better.

Watch McKenna tell the full story of Obama's visit below:

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