The Big Ask
I’ve written before about The Joy of Giving/The Joy of Receiving, but I have to get on the soapbox again about this topic. Here is a lesson I learned about asking for help from my family.
This tale starts with my Dad undergoing quadruple bypass surgery in July of 2000 to save his life. A few days after surgery, he was transferred from the hospital to a rehabilitation facility closer to home. Even though he was eighty years old, it was expected he would be able to build back his strength. But he never really did.
He got home a few weeks later but his ability to take care of himself had disappeared. Poof! Mom, also eighty years old, was his 24/7 caregiver. One daughter lived across the country in California, and the other daughter, my sister Margo, worked a full-time job with moonlighting on the side about seventy-five miles away from our parents’ home. This was already a bit of a recipe for trouble.
Soon after Dad went home, his docs confirmed their suspicion: Dad had Parkinson’s Disease. Did my stoic parents inquire about home health services covered by their insurance? Nope. Did they hire someone to help my mother out with practical support or help Dad with his increasing physical challenges? Nope. And why? Mom explained that Dad didn’t want strangers in the house, and really only wanted help from his wife. Thereafter, she never left him alone for more than two hours.
Mom did not have the fortitude to advocate on her own behalf, despite many pleadings from her daughters to get some help. She took Dad’s wishes as an edict and chose not to rock the boat. As a result, Margo and I watched two people’s mental and physical health deteriorate, not just one.
The phrase about leading a horse to water but not being able to make it drink comes to mind. We could not convince Mom to ask for help nor did we feel we could defy both of them and make arrangements for assistance without their consent. Now that’s a recipe for feeling powerless.
Jump ahead many years to 2013. Dad had died nine years prior, and we lost Mom in 2008. (I believe her life was shortened by heroic caregiving without any respite.) In 2013, the diagnosis was malignant melanoma, and this time it was Margo who had the proverbial gun pointed at her head.
Resting at home after a lengthy hospitalization, Margo stirred and looked me straight in the eye. In a moment of clarity despite being under the influence of strong narcotics to manage her pain, she said to me, “I’m going to do this differently. Mom and Dad wouldn’t let anybody help them. Not me. If people want to bring me food, help me bathe, do laundry and all that, I’m going to let them.”
And she did. My sister’s 70th birthday would be this month. She was one of my heroes. Her break from familial stoicism to ask for and receive help remains one of her most memorable legacies.
One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Ram Dass: “We’re all just walking each other home.” Ask for help when you need it. Give help when you can. Isn’t this a recipe for more joy?
Comments on this blog post are welcome — see the bottom of this page.
Prompts for Joy
Click here for a sweet invitation to help others. (Thanks to a proud grandmother, Geri Spieler, whose grandson is in this short film.)
Click here because animals can be great helpers, too. (Thanks, Jan Herzog.)
Sisters on Easter Sunday, El Paso, TX. Photo by Geoffrey Clark.