I hate asking for help. I am slowly getting over that because, really, what am I trying to prove? Yes, I would love help carrying groceries into the house. Help with dinner? Please!
If I had asked for help in my 40s, perhaps my back wouldn’t be aching now. I could have used another set of hands when I decided to flip my mattress or rearrange my office furniture.
It’s time to admit that asking for help is okay. We need help no matter how old we are. Here are some good reasons to consider:
• We can’t do it all on our own – no matter what it is
• As we age we need more help so practice asking now
• Let others feel good about helping
In my work, I spend most of my time helping other people and convincing them that help isn’t a bad word. Sometimes I resort to quiet helping – which means that I pave the way so that whatever needs to be accomplished can be done successfully.
When I said, “Let me help ” to one of my dearest clients, her favorite rebuttal was “I can do it. I’m not an old lady.”
This is Fran. She lived to prove that she had the stuff to keep going, like she was 50, not 87. She had some challenges living as a 50-year-old in an octogenarian’s body. First, she was legally blind.
A benign tumor took sight away from one eye. Her “good eye” wasn’t so good. But there were things she could see in certain light so she felt that her vision was fine. “I can see enough,” she would tell me.
A few years into our friendship, trips to the supermarket revealed how little vision she had. In the produce section, Fran often said that the strawberries looked horrible. Most of the time she was looking at something else.
The shopping cart was a lifesaver for her balance but a danger to other shoppers. When she drove the cart, I held on to the end of the carriage to avoid collisions.
Some people are grateful for help but would never think of asking for it. Alice lived in a nursing home for eight years. Her children were far away and members of her congregation became her family. They helped with getting her to and from services. They scheduled times to call her sons (she had a tremor which made dialing and answering the phone impossible).
Alice never understood why these people were so helpful to her. She graciously accepted their assistance but never felt like she deserved their kindness.
We need to accept that everyone deserves kindness.
Getting back to Fran, like many people with impaired vision, she knew how to navigate her home. She was fine going in and out of the house through the garage and getting the newspaper from the front walkway. Her kids, on the other hand, knew that she was moments away from a fall.
On trash day, they arranged for someone to be responsible for barrels.
Unfortunately, fiercely independent Fran decided to deal with the barrels herself on a February trash day. Wearing her well-worn slippers, no socks or jacket, she pressed the garage door button, made her way down the few stairs to where the barrels were, and tried to pull them out.
Fran fell and couldn’t get up. We estimated that she was in her garage for at least five hours (without a cell phone or medical alert pendant) until she was found. Hospitalization and rehab didn’t deter her from wanting to return to her home and pick up where she left off. No walker, no in-home care. She did get an alert system but rarely wore it. “I’m fine!” she’d say.
Eventually Fran’s family moved her to an assisted living residence. She was surprisingly accepting of the move but her stubbornness remained firmly intact. She had just enough vision to find her way around the place.
Most of the other residents used rollators. They zipped down the halls, picking up mail. When they were tired, or if there wasn’t a chair nearby, they used their rollator as a seat.
Fran continued to dismiss the rollator. “That’s for old ladies. There are a lot of them around here.”
She had a few minor falls and wasn’t seriously injured. Her luck ran out though. Fran fell about a year ago. This serious fall resulted in her losing all her vision.
Getting help – whether it is from another person or using a device that will make it easier to get around – has a lot of value.
Why don’t those in need ask for help? According to a report on the World Economic Forum’s website, we may not ask because we fear that we will be perceived as needy or incompetent (Tessler and Schwartz 1972), or because we don’t want to be indebted to others (Greenberg and Shapiro 1971). In addition to feeling burdensome or talked down to, we fear losing a sense of control, or rejection.
The whole issue of denying the need for help probably is rooted in acceptance of aging. Who wants to acknowledge that we are (as my husband reminds me) in the Fourth Quarter? Dr. Muriel Gillick, a professor of Population Medicine at Harvard Medical School, writes that “a good old age is within our grasp.” She believes that we just have to adjust our expectations and realize help is okay.
If our goal is to live to a ripe old age, let’s accept that our abilities change and life can be sweet even though we’re no longer in what we used to consider our prime.
Gillick refers to a geriatrician who stated that “the real key to happiness at every age and stage – particularly old age – is not material things, but acceptance and gratitude for life’s simple blessings, like laughter among friends or watching a sunset with a loved one.”
It’s hard work to alter our definition of what is important in life as we age. We want what we always had. If we seek joy and satisfaction throughout our journey on earth, let’s adjust our expectations. Perhaps the younger people around us will see our value no matter how much our abilities change. Hopefully they will be willing to help and I will be able to graciously ask, accept and be thankful. Θ
Carolyn Schultz Eggert writes from Newton. Previously she was a reporter for People magazine. Questions? Please email her at Carolyneggert@yahoo.com.