Recently, I set my grill on fire. Not like a huge fire where the fire department had to be called but big enough that I needed to employ my fire extinguisher, along with traumatizing our children. My parents had been over for dinner, so my dad felt compelled to remind me, his 43-year daughter, of the importance of cleaning and maintaining and being overall responsible for the drip tray on our grill. “Thanks, Dad,” was about all I could muster. However, being reminded of yet one more task I’m supposed to be in charge of was not what I needed to hear. But my neighbor, though, and good friend, Ken Watson, was also over for dinner. The very next day he came over to clean my grill for me, claiming we feed him enough, it’s the least he could do. When any number of our parents say, “I wish we knew what else we could to do to help,” and their hearts are all in the right place— but I always say, “It’s okay; this is just our life, and we will survive.”
Now, when someone offers help, I’m going to reply, “How would you feel about cleaning our grill?” Geoff could probably handle that chore with someone’s assistance, but then I might as well just do it myself. Right? How many of us think that way? Recently, I was visiting dear friends who are fighting cancer right now as a family with young children. We had the conversation about those kinds of people who come into your life and instead of asking what they can do to help, just clean your toilet or empty the dishwasher or throw a load of laundry in or weed your garden or steal your children for ice cream or a playdate. Now some people might be offended by that kind of help, but for others, the very question, “How can we help?” is paralyzing because asking for help is hard and sometimes we don’t even know where to start when help is offered. I was grateful Ken didn’t ask, “Hey, do you want me to clean your grill?” He just made it happen.
Each of us needs a different level of assistance on any given day.Just last week, the father of my husband’s best friend passed away. Towards the end of the wake, the family of a man with ALS came in to pay their respects.His diagnosis of ALS was 12 years ago, and his wife, father in law, brother in law, all played key roles in driving his van, making sure he and his power chair and ventilator made it inside the funeral home safely. I’m not normally shy around folks and their wheelchairs, but I wondered quietly what their life was like at home. Later that night when we were sitting quietly on the couch reflecting on the endless crowd at the wake, Geoff told me how this man’s wife told him at the wake how much she liked reading my blogs. This made me cry. She is beautiful and poised and faced with innumerable challenges each and every day in the caregiving for the man she loves— and the children they are raising together. How does she ask for help? Does she need to? Does she want it? How does her husband deal with the frustration he must feel in his heart and mind? How does she?
Caregiving is a tricky learning curve.Sometimes we help and other times we could use the help. We want to help, but we don’t want to assume helplessness nor do we want to be treated like hired help, especially as partners. I’m no expert. But if you come to my house for dinner there may be dishes in the sink or laundry unfolded on my kitchen table or a bunch of adaptive sports equipment on my living room floor or in the driveway, there are always wheelchair or bicycle tires to blow up. Our grill is in decent shape right now thanks to our friend Kenny even if we only have one working knob out of six. Geoff is fairly independent and asks for help when he needs to; we caregivers should do the same.At this writing, I’m on an airplane bound for Austin, TX to meet college girlfriends for the weekend. I used to stress the entire time I was gone from my family worrying that the kids or Geoff couldn’t reach or find something they needed. Today, I worried for about one hour into the flight; suddenly, I found myself lost in a book and could barely remember I had a family at home! Taking time is one way to take care of myself, even if just for three days in Texas.
Heather Krill is a writer- wife- teacher-mom who lives in the White Mountains of NH with her husband, Geoff, a paraplegic and professional skier, and their two children, Carver and Greta who are 8 and 7.Please check out her novel True North, website http://www.heatherkrill.com, author FB page Heather Krill, @heatherkrill1 on Twitter, and, most recently added in the New Year, her Youtube channel “Writing from the Front.”