I was raised to be self sufficient. Even when I asked my parents for help and advice, I was often told to figure it out on my own. In this day and age of helicopter parents and everyone getting a trophy I guess that sounds very harsh. I have to say it was tough sometimes when I was really lost and needed guidance, but overall it made me a stronger person.
Learning to ask for help as an adult has been a tough lesson that I still haven’t really learned. I never saw my parents ask anyone for anything. It has been a long learning process and I have actually learned the most from the other side of the asking.
When something happens to someone we love, we often feel helpless and wish there was something tangible we could do for them. Usually there is very little we can do in a medical emergency, the loss of a loved one or other catastrophe. I can’t make the pain go away, I can’t cure anyone, I can’t bring your job back or soothe a hurt soul.
I can bring a meal. I can sit and listen.
When I was a young mom, I had major surgery that put me down for a few weeks. I had a son and husband that needed to be fed and I just couldn’t do it. Almost immediately food began to arrive from friends, neighbors and church members. I remember feeling terrible about all of the food that was being brought to us, all of the people taking time out of their busy lives to prepare and deliver these amazing meals.
Tim got his feelings a bit hurt that so many people thought he wouldn’t take adequate care of me without so much help. And I understood his feelings. I figured they thought we were real losers to be so needy!
I said something to my friend Nancy, who always knew how to put things in perspective. She told me that most of the time the act of helping was as much for the giver as the recipient. When we feel helpless to make the pain go away, we can at least do something by bringing food. She told me to let people do for us in times of need, because it soothed them as much as it fed us.
I took her word for it and moved on.
Over the years, Nancy’s wise words have proven true. Experiencing this from the other side brings it home. When friends have had losses or illnesses, I feel helpless to make things right for them. The only thing I can do is take them a meal, a treat, a magazine, or just sit and hold their hand. It isn’t much, but it is all I have.
And Nancy was right, it probably does more for me than for them sometimes. I can only hope that a note or a casserole does something to comfort them as well.
Now when I have a trauma and someone brings me a meal, I don’t think about anything more than the love that was poured into the recipe, the caring that was used for each step of the preparation and how when I consume the meal it isn’t just filling my stomach, but also my soul with love and caring served to me on a plate.
There are those who are too private or too closed off to ask for or accept help and I have to respect that, although I no longer understand it. I have completely changed my tune.
I will say that when my mom died I needed some time before I saw anyone. I didn’t need food or companionship at first, I needed to cry and gather my thoughts. Because of that experience I try to respect others when they need some space. But when I get the call for help I feel that the person trusts me and needs me to do something, even if it is as simple as a cake. It tells me that my presence might make a difference if only a tiny one. It tells me that although I am pretty helpless, my friends will let me try.
So I no longer think that I am supposed to do everything on my own. I no longer think that the sign of a tough person is to go it alone. It takes much more strength to ask for help and to accept the fact that maybe we are all in this together. Calling for help shows trust and love. It shows an understanding of our own limitations and the needs of us all to come together.