On my way out the door to the Urgent Care that fateful Tuesday when Ryan was diagnosed, I posted a quick status on Facebook: “Taking the 11 year old to Urgent Care with chest pains. Probably dehydration – poor thing can’t keep anything down. Please pray.” At the ER I updated with another status, and kept posting as things developed.
And this is when I found out just how awesome my friends are. I knew I had awesome friends. I did. But I just didn’t realize HOW awesome they were until this crisis blind-sided us. My phone was buzzing with texts as word got around. Daughter Emily notified certain key people and it went from there. A prayer request went out on the church email loop. People started offering help on Facebook and via text and email.
We have been in crisis before, with my own mystery illness a couple of years ago, and the four times I was in the hospital for childbirth, and when my father passed away in 1998. So we had been on the receiving end of the dinner-deliveries that someone at church or our homeschooling academy would set up for us. But each time in the past, when people would say, “If there’s anything I can do, let me know,” I would intend to answer them but then just never figured out what the perfect job would be for them to fulfill, and then the crisis would pass, and then I would look back and go, “Huh. A lot of people offered a lot of help that I didn’t accept, which made that whole thing a heck of a lot harder than it needed to be.” So this time, I found myself accepting on the spot. I didn’t get back to them later. I simply said the first thing that popped into my head when they offered and didn’t allow myself to over-analyze.
“Can I make you dinner?” … “Yes, please. Someone has tonight covered. Can you do tomorrow?”
“I’ll come over and do laundry, dishes, whatever you need.”… “Okay, I’ll get Alan to hide a key somewhere for you. Friday okay? The hamper at the foot of my bed needs washing.”
This took some sucking up of pride. Especially knowing that a friend was going to be washing and folding my underwear and seeing what a disaster the house was. Considering that I left for the hospital at the end of a long day of sick-boy-in-the-house, I didn’t get much cleaning done that day. And accepting all the food… well, that was easier, but it still took an admittance that I really couldn’t do it all myself.
I think I learned my lesson the last time I needed help. I was sick for so long, I had to receive help. I couldn’t function without it. And I learned then what I discovered anew now… the sting of swallowing pride is nothing compared to the joy of letting people help you. By the time we got home from the hospital, I felt completely loved and supported by those around me. So maybe I couldn’t bring the awesome nurses home with me. But I had some awesome friends and family, who I could count on to pray, to cook, to clean, to help my other kids, and to just call or send me a line saying, “I’m thinking about you. You’re going to be okay.”
The thing is, I would have done any of those things for any one of my friends. No problem. Pick your kid up and take them to the park? Sure, I’ll do it. Come over and do your dishes? Where’s the key? Cook you dinner? I’m on it.
Show up at the hospital with things like Starbucks and interesting sick-bed-appropriate games and Lego kits, and spend an hour walking the hospital ground with you, telling you it’s okay that you are unraveling and snapping at your family members over silly things? Well, maybe I couldn’t do that before, but I can now. But more importantly, I know to do it because no fewer than five different friends, who have each walked down similar roads themselves, did that for me. It’s the camaraderie of those who have slept in those hospital-chair-bed-torture-device-things.
So why do I tell you this? To brag on my friends? Well, they are pretty awesome, I admit. I can’t take credit for that. But no, it’s not just to brag. It’s to point out two things that I learned through being on the receiving end of help.
1) When someone you know is in crisis, don’t be afraid to come forward and offer to help.
- Be a little pushy, even, so that they understand that you are not just saying platitudes, but that you really mean this. (Now please understand that when I say to be a little pushy, I mean a LITTLE pushy. It didn’t happen this time, but in the distant past, I can remember coming up against people who wanted to come in and take over our lives on their schedule. So be sensitive and save the Savior complex for another time.)
- Give specifics. “I can give your kids rides to classes and meetings – what’s your schedule?”; “I have 3 hours on Thursday – I’ll come clean your bathrooms.”
- And then (and this is really, really important), SHOW UP and do the thing you said you would do. Again, no one let us down this time, but I have seen it happen, and it makes it harder for the person in crisis to accept help when they are afraid it won’t come through.
2) If you are on the receiving end, for goodness sake, accept the help you are being offered.
- Don’t worry about the details. Just say “Yes thank you” and let your awesome friends figure out the details.
- Be honest about your needs. “No, I don’t need dinner, but can you do some grocery shopping?” Don’t be afraid to ask. They want to help – they just offered it.
- Remember that people might not deliver their help perfectly. We are still finding dishes and laundry “put away” in strange places. It’s actually kind of fun. Relax your personal rules a little and choose to be blessed instead of upset.
- Keep them updated – Facebook and Twitter and email are perfect for quick but easy updates. You don’t have to share everything, but let them know their prayers are working. No, really, you really do NOT have to share everything. Details about medications and bowel movements are not necessary. But an update once or twice a day is nice.
They say it is better to give than to receive, and sure, that’s true and all. But when you open up your life and let people in, your heart begins to grow.
So let people in. Let people know you are struggling. Let people pray for you and send good thoughts your way and light candles and whatever else they offer, however they want to express their solidarity, whether or not it lines up with your particular theology.
Receiving help has changed me. I received so much more than the help, which would have been enough in and of itself. I received love, which has swelled up in my heart to overflowing, and is causing me to look for ways I can pass it along. It’s more than a “pay it forward” kind of a thing — it’s a living, breathing, organic thing that thrives on connectedness, gratitude and self-sacrifice. It is, I believe, what God intended when He made us – pure love, expressed in a thousand little details, each one reflecting His image. He created us for relationship; when we erect walls to protect hearts that have been wounded in the past, we shut out the healing He means to bring through others.
Because while people can be pretty awful, and it is wise to remove one’s self from toxic situations, people can also be pretty awesome, if you let them.