My wife fought through breast cancer three years ago. As you can imagine, we learned a lot about many different facets of life. The doctors were responsive and the surgery set quickly. We felt like the entire process was handled relatively well. That isn’t the part of the experience that surprised us the most.
When you face a life-threatening illness (with four very young children) certain thoughts run through your mind. “How are we going to make it through this? How can we raise these kids and provide the rest that Mom needs? We have some family down here, but they can only do so much.”
Then something amazing happened.
People came out of the woodwork to help us. While we knew some of these people as friends before the illness, most of them were mere acquaintances. Maybe someone we met once or twice. Sometimes we were served by people who didn’t even know us, but knew we were in a time of need.
It was an incredible experience. You don’t know what support is there until you really need it.
So what’s my point? Let me share it through an anecdote.
Sarah, a divorced woman in her sixties, comes to me in a state of terror. She hadn’t saved any money. Her social security wasn’t enough to cover her bills. She was in a very tight spot. Even I wasn’t sure of her best course of action. Next she mentioned, “My sister lives on the West Coast. She told me she would be happy to take me in. But I don’t want to be a burden. It’s embarrassing and sad and I’m sure she would resent having to bail out her older sister.”
Do you see the moral in this modern-day allegory? If not, here’s one more.
Debbie, a widow in her sixties sits with me in my office. “I poured my life into my kids. I wanted them to be productive, happy adults. I sacrificed so much for their well-being, I guess I neglected myself. I have almost no savings. I’m 68 years old. There aren’t many jobs available to me. I’m still renting my place. I have no place to go.” Next she mentioned, “At least my kids are all doing well. They seem happy, they all have good jobs and families. In fact, my oldest suggested that they convert the second floor of the garage into a mother-in-law suite. But I can’t do that to my kids. Do they really want their mother getting in the way of things?”
See it now? Both of these women were willing to suffer rather than accept freely given help. Don’t be like Sarah and Debbie.
Most people are not providers throughout their lives. Sometimes you have to be okay with being the receiver, rather than the giver. The world is filled with caretakers, ready and eager to help. As we learned during my wife’s bout with cancer, we realized that many people in the world are givers. They scan their immediate environment looking for people in need. And when they find someone they spring into action.
Why, then, do we assume nobody is willing to help? Why do we feel embarrassed and ashamed when we are unable to be the provider? There are people waiting to help you. There is no shame in asking for help. Let the helpers do their job.
During my wife’s trials, we found that many other people with cancer did not get nearly as much help and support. Why? Simple. You have to go out there, swallow your fear, and tell people. Talk to your family, your friends, your church. Get it out there. Few people will judge you, and you won’t believe the helpers that start coming out from the woodwork. If you try to go it alone you will struggle.
And let’s go back to the situations referenced above. Did Sarah’s sister really see her as a burden? For all Sarah knows, there is nothing more her sister wants than living with her sibling. Maybe her sister has been praying for this day for years. People generally don’t offer to help with significant life situations unless they really mean it.
Were Debbie’s kids upset that their Mom was “coming home?” No! Her daughter had three kids of her own. They were desperate for help. Who cares if Mom doesn’t have any money? That’s not what Mom is about. Mom sacrificed her whole life for her children. Why else would they extend such generosity?
You are not how much money you make. You are not only valuable to your family, friends, community if you are paying your own way.
My wife comes from the Thai culture, and in that society it is assumed that as people get older, younger generations are there to help. It would be seen as blasphemy to turn away a family member in need. Almost every culture in the world has functioned this way for hundreds of years.
What a liberating concept! All those helpers out there are just waiting for someone like you to express a need. Let them do what they do best. Otherwise the helpers of this world have nothing to do.