broadsideblog

Is “Help!” a four-letter word for you?

In aging, behavior, domestic life, Health, life, seniors, women on March 15, 2012 at 12:07 am
English: "A Helping Hand". 1881 pain...

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I’ve just experienced the most dependent month of my adult life.

Having had full hip replacement, returning home bruised, swollen and sore, I needed daily — even multiple times a day — help to do the simplest of things: eat, dress, pull socks, stocking and shoes on and off, get in and out of bed, bathe.

I left my parents’ home at 19 and lived much of my life after that alone. I’d been sick as hell alone in my apartment or traveling far away where I knew no one and didn’t speak the language, in places like Venice or Istanbul. My family has never been close emotionally or physically — it was made very clear to me what, pretty much whatever happened to me, physically, financially, emotionally, it was up to me to figure out, and cope with it.

I hated being weak, needy and vulnerable. Surprise!

I finally drove this week — and showered (alone!) and tied my sneakers (unaided!) — for the first time in a month. I went by train into Manhattan, our nearest city, and saw a movie with a friend and did some clothes shopping. It was all deliciously new and deeply pleasant.

But I didn’t, as everyone expected, sigh with relief at finally regaining my cherished independence.

I loved having Jose home, to chat with and bring me breakfast in bed. Friends drove an hour to visit, bringing home-cooked meals and fresh cheer. Two close friends were kind enough to chauffeur me to physical therapy a few times, otherwise a $20 cab ride each way.

I’d never been so fussed over or cared for, and it was lovely. Our front door is covered in get-well cards. We ate dinners for three weeks cooked and delivered by members of our church.

As I’ve been walking our apartment property in spring sunshine, I’ve run into a neighbor, a single woman my age who is fighting cancer for the third time. She’s reluctant to ask for help, but she needs it from time to time.

We all do.

We are, even in our vigorous 20s or 30s, as likely to be felled by a vicious flu or a broken arm or a sprained ankle.

We need help, whether writing a better resume or finding the perfect wedding dress or learning how to refinish furniture or bathe a baby. But, for some reason, we’re supposed to shoo away a helping hand.

No, I’m, fine, really, we insist. Even when we’re really not at all fine and would kill for a helping hand or two.

Maybe we’re afraid no one will step up and be reliable and do the hard work, even for a while. As someone who took decades here in New York to make lasting friendships, this offered a huge and powerful lesson for me. We’re loved!

Do you find it difficult to ask others for help?

When you ask, do you receive it?

  1. So far I have been blessed with good physical health. However, after my divorce a few years ago, I tried to be the hero, brave one, etc. I finally had to allow my loved ones in and let them tend my wounds. In doing so I was filled with joy, and a desire to smile again.
    I am usually the one doing the tending to friends & family, but yes, there are times we need to surrender and allow..
    So glad you are on the mend and have such a wonderful support system around you!!!

  2. It’s not easy to ask for help, but after we’ve been given it so generously, it might get easier.

    Thanks for the kind wishes.

  3. Helping someone in need is often as rewarding to the giver as it to the recipient. When somebody asks me to help, I feel I have been given a gift of their trust and honesty. Knowing that it makes me feel good to help someone has made it easier for me to ask for help when I need it.

    Hoping for continuing smooth recovery for you :-)

  4. You express it so well. One of my friends said the same thing to me about how much she appreciated being able to help us out.

    I’m recovering really well, thanks, already using the elliptical and regular bike at PT.

  5. There is definitely something human about helping each other out – and sometimes it takes the big things like hip replacements and earthquakes before we reach out or reach in. No matter how tough we are – the warmth of human contact must be a need on some primal level.

    Glad to hear you are tying your own shoes! Keep getting better, k?

    • You make a good point — I think it’s hard to ask for help for smaller stuff, even when we need it. I love knowing I’ve been helpful and, when I can help, am happy to.
      Thanks for the good wishes!

  6. I hope you are feeling fine and soon will be taking many long walks in the spring sunshine.

    Yes, some of us are used to being helpers and it just doesn’t seem natural, after all of these years, to be on the receiving end. I have such a hard time with that.

    What a beautiful and interesting place you have here. I shall visit often.

    ~Lily

    • Thanks coming by — and commenting!

      I think many women are so accustomed to caregiving that they/we aren’t very good getting it. But I must say I got used to it and loved — and miss it a bit! I was also very fortunate to have a husband who really enjoyed helping me, and never made me feel he resented it.

  7. [...] Broadside’s post on help got me thinking about the four letter [...]

  8. Professionally, as in writing, I don’t find it hard to ask for help, because writing is so god-damn difficult I can’t do it alone. It’s as simple as that. But on the personal front, can I ask for help? No. Strange huh.

  9. I find it very difficult to ask anybody for anything. Yet nothing comes more naturally to me than helping others. It fills me with pleasure to see someone understanding something I have explained or succeeding in a job interview I have helped them prepare for. I don’t know why I can’t turn it around and consider that others might actually want to help me too.

    • I’ve always been someone quick to help others and, typically, don’t ask for much help. But my surgery/recovery was pretty daunting — and everyone knows that — so it was one time I knew I could legitimately ask for help and assume some people would step forward. It was interesting to see who *did* really help the most and who didn’t even send a card, email or flowers. It’s instructive! Many surprises there.

      The biggest hurdle for me, and it was a huge one, was trusting that our friends really would come through for us, and they did in ways that surprised and moved us both. I think many people are very happy to help, as long as we know what exactly we are needed for (and that, bluntly, it will likely be fairly limited.) I am lucky enough I did not need help for many months, just three intense weeks. I’d be very happy now to make dinners for someone in our church who needs them, knowing what a great comfort it offers and having been so generously treated.

      You don’t know until you ask!

  10. I’ve always been one to help, rather than ask for help. Always been good with pulling my own weight and others’, until really recently. At the beginning of February, probably around the same time you had your surgery, I woke up in the morning in agony from neck to fingers on the right side, unable to move.

    It turned out I had a big disc protrusion between the vertebrae in my lower neck. It was causing pain, numbness, stiffness, loss of strength, blah blah blah. Physio sent me to doctor, who tested me, had a look at MRI and sent me off to the surgeon, refusing to listen to any objection (“me, cut open? noooooooo”).

    Because of the nature of this thing while it was inflamed, I’d been banned from doing anything that caused strain to anything in my neck. Which is pretty much everything. Carrying groceries, doing the vacuuming, lifting the laundry basket (ok, must say, someone else doing the chores wasn’t so bad ;) ), taking stuff out from the fridge, washing my hair, drying my back, etc etc etc. It was humiliating and most frustrating, but a damn good lesson: Appreciate Others Like Hell 101. I’m so thankful for my husband and various friends who gave me lifts, and helped me carry everything in the last couple of months. I’ve never been good at asking for help, because I feel really bad that others have to go out of their way to cater for me, so it’s been uncomfortable. But never a better reminder that I am connected to so many wonderful people in the world.

    I’ve just had the surgeon’s appointment a few days ago and I’m cleared of needing to go under the knife for the moment. The problem seems to be resolving itself so I’m being monitored. But this is something that is going to stay with me for the rest of my life, so I’ll be getting heaps more practice at asking people for help in the future!

    • You only find out how helpful people are willing to be when you give them the chance. It’s a nice surprise even if the way to it is through a lot of physical hell! Hope you feel better soon!!g

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