In Times of Need

I loathe asking other people for help. I have this innate fear of inconveniencing them; of having someone go out of their way just for me. I worry that I’m somehow adding to their burden.

I’m not sure where or when this started but I know that in the past I had to get pretty desperate before I asked for assistance from others. If there was an especially sick kid or Bob had a lengthy work trip or I was having another baby, I would make a call. And, then I would only call family who would travel great distances to help out. And, I would feel bad about it. About having others spending their time and money to help us.

It’s like my approach to parenting is some super sad contest where those that need the least amount of assistance, win. Only, the trophy is a stress ulcer.

I can’t tell you the number of times over the past eight years when others have offered a helping hand and I’ve fought every urge in my body screaming, “YES, that would be great!” and instead replied with a, “No, but that’s so kind of you to offer.” See, I don’t want to cause anyone any trouble.

But, the thing is, we would have never been able to emerge from the intensity of the past two months without the graciousness and generosity of others. It took Bob’s stroke, this experience, this absolute crisis, to understand that people naturally want to help. People need to help. People expect to help. LET THEM HELP.

This was one of the long halls between the parking lot and the wing of the hospital where Bob was being treated. I called it my Sally Field hall since I always envisioned her clicking

This was one of the long halls between the parking lot and the wing of the hospital where Bob was being treated. I called it my Sally Field Hallway since as I walked it, I would remember her, in her brown blazer, carrying her smart handbag, clicking her loafers on the tile floor on her way to Julia Roberts’ bedside. Except Bob didn’t die of diabetes or anything at the end of all of this. So that’s good.

In the wee morning hours after Bob’s stroke, when it became apparent that he was going to be hospitalized and that I would want to be bedside, I can remember running through the contact list on my phone trying to figure out who I could call upon to take care of my kids. I stood in the hallway outside of Bob’s room strategizing over who to ask and how to ask and for how long to ask. I knew that first day was so crucial to Bob’s recovery but my parents were a day’s drive away, my stepson and his wife were at a wedding out of town and several of my local friends were on vacation. We had just moved to our (small) neighborhood two months prior and really didn’t know anyone well enough to shove three kids at them with a questionable return time. The outlook was grim.

By mid-morning on Sunday, I had reached the tipping point. I knew I was needed back at the hospital. That I needed to get back. That it had become rather desperate. So, I called the same neighbors who had slept on our sofa the night before and asked if they could watch the kids while I headed back to the hospital. Even with a husband in the intensive care unit, even though they had walked out of my house offering to help in any way they could, I was still nervous to make that call. Still nervous!

“Bring them on down!” they said.

Our neighbors went on to watch our three kids plus their three kids for SEVEN hours that Sunday. They cared for them, fed them, potty’ed them and tried to nap them. Of course they did. Because anyone would. I just simply had to ask.


I slept in this chair, right by Bob’s side, for eight nights. Our time together (the nights are always the hardest, ask any brand new mother and she will solemnly nod) was made possible, initially by Bob’s sister and sister-in-law who were first on the scene and later by my mother and sister who worked tirelessly caring for our children and our home.

The subsequent weeks were filled with perfect examples of others providing us with the support we needed to get through an extremely difficult time. Our neighbors, our friends and our families stocked our fridge, took care of our kids, cut our lawn, washed our laundry, sent emails, cards and texts, lent a listening ear and showed such compassion and kindness that I am still taken aback reflecting upon it today.

And, throughout Bob’s hospitalization and the weeks following his return home, I got better at both accepting help and asking for the right kind of help. (The answer, by the way, is food. It’s always food. When you have a house full of guests who are there to help, turns out they need to be fed.)

When a neighbor asked to drive Henry to the bus stop every morning to make it easier on my family, I said, “YES, thank you!”

When a friend emailed to say she was close to the  hospital and did I need anything, I said, “YES, can you give me a ride back to my house?”

When another friend offered to watch the kids, I said, “ACTUALLY, can you bring food instead?”

I just kept saying, “YES!” Yes to all of the things because it made everything else easier. And, to the best of my knowledge, no one was put out by their efforts. No one felt burdened. No one felt disgruntled from going out of their way to help someone in need. Everyone was gracious and lovely and pretended not to notice that my eyes were red and puffy.

Bob’s stroke was a giant lesson in humility. Humbling accepting the help offered by others and humbling admitting that I do not reciprocate that help as often as I should. I am determined to change both my attitude and my effort.

So, when something horrible befalls you or your family, please know I stand at the ready, armed with a Compassion Casserole (or seven). Or, if you just need someone to hold the baby while you take a nap, I could do that, too.

4 thoughts on “In Times of Need

  1. Joanna, Many people don’t have the opportunity to learn this lesson, sorry you had a reason to learn it but It is one of the most gracious lessons to have the honor to learn. As you well know I had to learn it with Kari and again when my Dad died. Roxie had to learn it with Dennis and Laura had to learn it with Matt. But think of many of the Glen Meadow group that never had the need to learn it but they still took part in the lesson by doing what they could.
    I will forever remember the kindness of neighbors when Kari was so ill. The vision of the Tree in the living room decorated by the neighborhood with discarded ornaments and lights. The care of Mandy and the moped floor and refrigerator cleaned of old food and filed with new. It will always remain my most favorite Christmas.
    In many ways I believe that experience helped to make the neighborhood such a great place.
    You learned a hard and valuable lesson. Congratulations.

    • I think it’s human nature to rally behind those in need, Christy. It’s ironic that I was so resistant to ask for help when I would absolutely step up to help others if given the opportunity. I think being brave enough to ask is so important.

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