Asking for Help–Breaking the Silence

Last week, I shared some thoughts on why simply saying, “call me if you need anything,” is an inadequate response to someone’s health crisis or loss. I explored the idea that we can provide more genuine support if we are specific, time-sensitive, and action oriented. There is another side to this story though. It’s not unusual for me to sit with caregivers, friends, or even acquaintances of someone who is sick or grieving. In those sessions, the most commonly expressed emotion is a sense of helplessness. The caregiver or friend can’t take away or defeat the illness. They can’t restore your heart to wholeness. And so, often, they are desperate for something to do, some way to connect. To show you how much they love and appreciate you.

Being Open to Help

As I thought about this post, the comments from last week were ringing loud for me.  Linda Esposito, LCSW pointed out that it’s not fair or reasonable to expect someone who is using every scrap of her/his energy to make it through the day to generate a list of needs. And that’s true. It’s also true that those people who surround you genuinely want to help make a difference. So, I have been thinking about how best to reconcile those two truths in this post. Because, at the end of the day, thinking about how to let people support you shouldn’t be a source of brand new stress.

The Practical Stuff

To accommodate both truths, I thought that I would approach the issue of how to be open to support from two levels. If you are physically & emotionally able to do some of the items on this list, then you can approach these suggestions as things that you could actually do. If you are in the midst of chemo, are just post-surgery, are dealing with PPD, or you’re facing any other challenge that is making it feel hard to just get out of bed in the morning, then please focus only on the first item on the list. Let your designated coordinator handle the rest.

  • Identify a coordinator/spokesperson. This can be a family member, friend, member of your congregation or other support community. Ideally, the coordinator shouldn’t be your primary caregiver, because that person needs to be able to focus on your needs (and their own self-care). The coordinator role can also be filled by a rotating group, if you are dealing with long-term health concerns.
  • You (or your coordinator) can then spend some time together brainstorming needs to be filled. This list of needs can be posted to Facebook, church list-serves, Caring Bridge, or other central sources of information.
  • Focus on the specific. Often, needs for help don’t get met because the request for help was vague. “I might need some help around the house,” is less likely to get a useful response than saying, “It would be helpful to have someone handle my laundry once a week because I can’t manage stairs.”
  • Often people feel “stuck” when trying to generate a list of helpful actions. I encourage you to think about the normal tasks of daily life that may be beyond your reach. Do you need help with grocery shopping, laundry, car pooling, house cleaning, kid’s homework, getting to doctor’s appointments, stocking up on toiletries? Those are great things to add to a list.
  • It’s great to be creative and to acknowledge your emotional needs as well as your physical ones. Could a friend volunteer to come by and talk about nothing related to your health? Or hang out and listen for an hour? Do you need a break from kids–or some quality time with a partner? Do you need a recommendation of a new comedian or a “beach read” novel? Do you need someone to pray with you, or to help you meditate?

The Emotional Stuff

In addition to the practical, level, I think that it is important to spend some time with yourself exploring any resistance you have to asking for or accepting help. What is holding you back from getting the support that you need? Are you used to being the strong one? Do you not want to “wear people out.”? Are you afraid to ask for help? In this article, the author did a great job of expressing the moment that she realized that people genuinely want and need to provide support to others. It is important to remember that, when you accept support from others, you’re giving them the gift of being useful, making a difference, & feeling less helpless. When you accept help from others, you’re setting a good example to your family and caregivers–who also need help and support. You’re allowing yourself and the people who love you to strengthen your connection in a time when you all feel scared and vulnerable.

What do you think? Any favorite suggestions on how to reach out for help and support? Please share.

Photo Credit: Ann Becker-Schutte

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