|Toni is the author of the Nautilus Gold Medal winning How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers. She can be found online at www.howtobesick.com|
Yet, despite this pattern in my own behavior, when I became chronically ill and didn't get back to people who offered to help, I decided that, because they failed to follow up, their offers weren't sincere. I learned otherwise quite by chance. A friend came to visit and showed me an exquisite handmade dress she'd just bought for her granddaughter at a local boutique. When I told her how much I loved it, she asked if I'd like to get one for my granddaughter. I said "sure," and before I could get "but I'm not able to go shopping" out of my mouth, she was out the door. She returned shortly with the dress in two sizes for me to choose from. I picked one, wrote her a check and, when she left to go home, she took the one I didn't want back to the boutique. That made three trips for her to the same store that day. When I got sick, was she one of the people who had said, "Let me know if there's anything I can do to help"? Yes. But I'd never asked her to do anything. On that day, however, I saw in her face that going to get that dress was a gift from me to her. She can't restore my health, but she can buy a dress for me to give to my granddaughter, and doing it made her feel terrific. Here's what I've learned about people who offer to help: 1. They're sincere in their offer: they mean it. 2. The responsibility falls on me, not on them, to follow-up. 3. The best way to take them up on their offer is to give them a specific task to do. Numbers 1 and 2 are consistent with my experience when I was in a position to help others: I meant it but I rarely followed-up, sometimes because I got distracted and sometimes because I thought I might be bothering them. As for number 3, friends and relatives aren't mind readers. We need to tell them what to do. This is what I learned from the "dress episode" with my friend. And, the more specific the request, the better. "Can you help with my laundry every other week?" is more likely to be successful as a request than, "Can you help with my laundry sometimes?" even though your friend or relative is likely to say "yes" to both requests. The use of the word "sometimes" in the second request is likely to be a "set-up" for that lack of follow-up that we'll erroneously take as lack of sincerity on their part. Many of us don't like to ask for help. We may have been taught that it's a sign of weakness, so we cling to the notion, "I can do everything myself," even if it's no longer the case.