6: The Beauty of Asking for Help

6: The Beauty of Asking for Help

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers

The Beauty of Asking for Help

We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.

~Herman Melville

In my book, people who asked for help were weaklings and wimps. I prided myself on my self-sufficiency. I had put myself through college and graduate school. I had gotten scholarships and job opportunities and all sorts of accolades, all from the very American idea that if you want to succeed in life, work as if everything depended on you. People who asked for help were just too lazy to do it on their own.

Boy, was I an idiot.

Doing everything on your own works great for things like pole vaulting or golf, but not so much for living life. Even lone wolves need their pack. This is the lesson I learned when I became my mom’s primary caregiver.

My mom’s hip replacement surgery originally appeared to be a success. She was determined to stay the minimum period in the rehabilitation hospital. Both of us had it in our heads that she would recuperate best in her own home. In our arrogance, we thought we were above staying in the hospital longer than necessary. We even talked the director into releasing her early. With my mom being a former nurse, we had this down. That was mistake number one.

In reality, my mom still needed a lot of round-the-clock care. I didn’t anticipate the fact that I was going to have to check on her non-stop, bathe her, change her, dress her, help prepare meals for her, set up her medicines—everything. I became a zombie as the weeks dragged on, and she still wasn’t fully able to care for herself.

Even when I wasn’t with her, I still felt the burden of her care. A gray cloud weighed heavily on me; I was constantly worried. Would she remember to be careful if she got up in the middle of the night? Would she remember the proper way to get in and out of bed, chairs, and the bath? To compound the stress of caring for my mother, my husband and son felt neglected. They complained that I was never home.

This infuriated me as I was doing my best to care for my mom—a full-time job—while still trying to manage my family and all the other usual things I had been doing. I kept pretending I could do all of this and still maintain my life as usual. Didn’t my family see how hard I was working? Why wouldn’t they support me instead of whining that I didn’t do enough? I didn’t want to admit I couldn’t be all things to everyone. That was mistake number two.

It should have been a huge warning flag that my mom’s recovery was taking a lot longer than expected. Because my mom had come home early, she did not heal properly. Soon, she started experiencing problems. First, it was simple things, like searing pain. Then her hip began dislocating on its own if she moved improperly. These bouts prompted calls to 911 and hospital visits to reposition the hip back into place. After the third hip dislocation, we learned she would have to repeat the surgery, rehabilitation process, and recovery again. We had to start over.

I was devastated. My mom was ready to quit. I didn’t know if she could physically endure a repeat of the entire process. I didn’t know if I could handle everything that would be required to do it all over again. Still, we pressed on.

Looming on the horizon was a planned family vacation to the North Carolina mountains. It was our family’s annual tradition. My husband kept reminding me of the upcoming dates. I knew my family was counting on this as an opportunity to reconnect and renew after a long, hard season. I was unsure—could I go away on vacation and leave my mom in the midst of all of this? As the most important advocate for my mom’s care, how could I go?

Still, the thought of asking for help never occurred to me. I had hunkered down and done everything by myself so far. Could I still continue as the lone wolf?

I remember having a complete meltdown when my mom’s surgery was only days away. It was a beautiful summer day, and what struck me was the irony of it all. Here was the most gorgeous day of summer—my son swam in the pool with a jubilant face, begging me to watch him do flips. All I could do was cry. I was exhausted. I was missing my family and the joys of summer. I couldn’t do it alone anymore.

I realized I didn’t know all there was to know about being a good caregiver. If I was completely spent as a person, I knew I could not make good decisions for my mom’s care. Quite possibly, by doing all of this myself, I may have been doing more harm than good. I needed help.

I started an e-mail and phone campaign to every single friend, neighbor, relative, church member, and girlfriend I knew. I simply said four little words: “Could you help me?” I asked them if they could help in whatever way was easiest for them—through phone calls, prayers, a note, visits, cookies, donating old magazines or whatever they could think of. I didn’t ask for help because I suddenly became enlightened; I asked for help because I had reached my personal limit.

What amazed me is that people loved the opportunity to help. They stopped by, wrote cards, called and brought their kids for a visit. Wisely, I did end up going on my planned family vacation for a much-needed rest—leaving my mom’s care in the capable hands of the rehabilitation caregivers. Each time I called home from my vacation, my mom happily told me who surprised her that day with a visit or a kindness. It was like Christmas for her as people cared for her in ways she never imagined.

By stepping out of the way and inviting others to share in the care of my mom, I received a beautiful gift. I learned how much better her recovery could be as we both were boosted by the love of friends. Not only did I build a huge support network, but I also built an ongoing system of caring for my mom. Everyone in my circle of friends became invested in my mother’s wellbeing and recovery.

The greatest lesson I learned didn’t just apply to being a good caregiver, but for life. When you share the journey of life’s ups and downs with people who adore you, it makes for a blessed path.

~Cara McLauchlan

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