This is the season of giving and helping those in need, but recently I’ve been reflecting on what it means to let others help us. I had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and remove a bone spur, and I won’t have the use of my left arm for four to six weeks. (I’m typing this with one hand—very slowly.)
I’ve been living in the recliner, since I can’t sleep in my bed yet, taking lots of naps, reading, watching movies, and writing a bit. First I write the old-fashioned way with a pen, because it’s easy to do in the recliner. Plus I like it. As inefficient as it is, there is something about the connection of pen to paper that feels right, even if I have to scratch out entire sentences. My thoughts never come out all perfect and well-formed the first time. Later, they’ll be typed with my one-handed pecking in short spells. That’s all I can do right now.
I’ve been independent from a young age, so it’s hard for me to ask for help or be dependent on others—even my husband. Lately I’ve been having to rely on Dan a lot. Not only is he preparing all of my meals, doing all of the dog walking, and opening everything that can’t be opened with one hand and my teeth, he’s helping me shower, dress, and with a multitude of other tasks that require two hands. I didn’t realize there were so many.
As hard as it is to feel dependent or that we need another person, I’ve learned that it’s just as important to let others help us as it is to help others. When we open ourselves up to help from others we make ourselves vulnerable. We relinquish control and trust others. That can be hard to do when we’re taught to be strong and independent from a young age. Needing assistance from others can make us feel uncomfortable, weak, or even like we somehow failed.
The thing is, we need each other, emotionally if not physically. Whether a spouse, partner, family member, or friend, we all need someone at times. And we also need to feel needed. From the time my parents moved from Minnesota to California seven years ago, the main responsibility for helping them has fallen to me, since neither of them drove after they arrived. My siblings help a lot when they visit from other states, but they aren’t here for most of the doctor visits, trips to the hospital, grocery shopping, and errands. I’m the only family in the state, so most of this falls on my shoulders. (The irony of my need for shoulder surgery is not lost on me.) Although this responsibility is difficult at times, I realized what a gift it is.
I know how it feels when someone won’t accept help. They are essentially saying, “I don’t trust you enough to give up control, make myself vulnerable, and receive your help.” It feels like rejection. We want to help each other—most of us, anyway. It makes us feel good to help someone in need, like we’re making a difference in someone’s life. We matter.
So during this season of giving and doing for others, I propose offering a different kind of gift. Accept that offer of help without feeling like you have to do anything in return. Give the gift of making someone feel essential. So what if they don’t do things the way you do. (I’m talking to myself here too.)
As for Dan, he’s doing an excellent job helping me, even when I’m crotchety from my discomfort and limited activity. I’d be lost without him. He is absolutely essential.