My wife fought breast cancer five years ago. As you can imagine, we learned a lot about a lot of facets of life. She had great doctors, the surgery was grueling, but overall she completed the “process” of battling the disease alive and well. That isn’t the part of the experience that surprised us the most.
What surprised us was all the help.
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?”
We have some family down here, but they could only do so much. Somehow, we had to balance my wife’s care, and the rest she needed, with the very real-life demands of raising four children.
Then something amazing happened.
People came out of the woodwork to help us. While some were friends before the illness, most 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? Hardship faced alone is suffering. Hardship faced with help is still hard, but it is easier.
I watch people refuse help a lot.
On one occasion, a woman–we’ll call her Debbie—was sitting with me in my office and said, “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.”
Then she said, “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?”
This woman was willing to suffer alone rather than accept help from her daughter, literally one of her closest relationships on Earth. She was also going to miss out on the joyful experience of living near her grandchildren, and the amazing blessing of gratitude when you receive help freely given.
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. During my wife’s battle with cancer, we realized that many people in the world are givers. They move through the world actively 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? I think one reason is because people are so ashamed to need help that they won’t ever ask for it.
When you are in need, you have to go out there, swallow your fear, and tell people.
Talk to your family, your friends, your church. Get your story 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 Debbie. Were Debbie’s kids upset that their Mom was “coming home?” Doubtful. Her daughter had three kids of her own. She was probably 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. Her eldest was probably happy and grateful she could help her mother in return.
Repeat after me: You are not how much money you make. Your value, to your family, friends, community, is not conditional on whether or not 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.