I am a textbook middle child. I am the black sheep. I am stubborn and headstrong. I developed an “I don’t need anything from anybody” attitude at a very young age. So when I came crawling home a few years ago, exhausted and broken, asking for help was the most shameful experience of my life. Even after I asked for help, I resisted it. Finally accepting help was both humbling and liberating. I now look at asking for help very differently.
A few weeks ago, I was present as my sister gave birth to her second child. It was a 17-hour drug-free home birth. (I am convinced that she could lift a house off of somebody if she needed to.) Initially, she asked me to be there just to film the birth for her. But I ended up being there through all of it: bringing snacks and drinks, fetching wet cloths, or just quietly moving stuff out of the way. My contribution to the day’s events was tiny, and yet I felt so lucky to have been involved. It was extraordinary.
I stayed for four days – tidying up, fetching things, and entertaining my niece while she got used to her baby brother – and in that time I watched as my sister and her husband’s friends (unsolicited) organized for dinner to be brought to their house by a different person every night for one week.
I remember my sister, exhausted yet somehow very much awake, telling me that she felt guilty accepting this unexpected kindness. After all, she felt well enough to get up and fix dinner herself. I gently assured her that allowing the people she loves to help, no matter how small, is a beautiful gift. In this joyous time, we feel happy for her and want to express our love, but we don’t always know how. For her to accept what, for us, is a very simple offering of congratulations, is actually quite generous.
Not a week after my sister gave birth, I was in the emergency room with extreme abdominal pain. An ultrasound revealed I had gallstones and pancreatitis. I was admitted to the hospital for the next nine days and ultimately both the stones and my gallbladder had to be removed.
It was overwhelming how much effort my siblings and friends made to contact me frequently, visit when they could (not my sister, whom I ordered to stay home with her toddler and newborn) and stay involved in everything that was happening. But my parents in particular were absolute superstars. They showed up every single day. They brought me supplies, entertainment, comfort. They talked with me, spent time with me, played cards with me. It was wonderful.
Upon my release, my mom brought me home then went out and filled my prescriptions. It took me a long time to lay down and get comfortable, so she got a blanket and covered me up once I started to get cold. At bedtime I couldn’t twist to turn off my lamp, so my dad tucked me in and turned out the light. But at no point did either of them seem annoyed or inconvenienced by these small tasks. Dare I suggest they may have actually gotten some satisfaction from their pig-headed middle child accepting their help?
No! I shouldn’t need people to bring me things or take care of me. I’m a strong and independent individual and I don’t need anybody! – says my adolescent self. I disagree wholeheartedly. I challenge that entire way of thinking. Accepting help from other people in no way diminishes my strength, my independence, or my individuality. Plus, what the heck are we here sharing this space for, if not to connect and help each other.
In times of struggle, pain, or even celebration, asking for help feels just awful. But for the lucky people that we seek out and trust with our care, it’s a truly wonderful opportunity to express their love. Screw feeling shameful accepting help; I choose to feel grateful and loved. Plus, I think we can all agree that having your 60-year old father tuck you in is pretty stinking adorable.