Friday, October 23, 2009

The Best Piece of Advice I Have to Offer

Yesterday was gorgeous here in New York: A balmy 70-something degrees. I was overdressed in my puffy vest and long-sleeve shirt. After 37 years on this earth, I am still not good at dressing appropriately for the weather. In fact, several times I have made New Year’s resolutions to learn to dress weather-appropriate. I am constantly overdressed or underdressed or have too many layers or not enough. Spaghetti-strapped dresses in 60 degrees; flip-flops in rain. I obviously need to revisit this resolution.

I took the girls out to Long Island and met a friend at the playground for a playdate, which, of course, is more like an excuse for the Moms to get together in an environment that will allow for children to be happily distracted so the Moms can engage in much-needed grown-up talk. It is a great playground, right on the beach. There was a nice breeze and you could smell the smell that is the Long Island Sound (I mean that in a good way; it has a very distinctive smell). The girls had a great time, raised by the power of sand, which is a substance they love to throw at each other. The even somehow got sand in their diapers.

So my friend and I were talking about how her aunt was just diagnosed with breast cancer and has to go for surgery this Saturday. My friend asked her aunt if she wanted her to go to the hospital with her, but the aunt said no, and she said that she knows how busy my friend is with her kids. The aunt said she would do it alone (the aunt is not married and has no other family around). Funny how people shut the world out just when they need someone the most. (And yes, this is the pot calling the kettle black: I am notorious for this.) My friend is indeed busy, and has a month-old newborn at home to boot, so things like taking an aunt to the hospital is indeed difficult to work into an already-packed schedule. But despite her aunt’s do-it-alone bravado, my friend said she is just going to meet her at the hospital anyway. How sweet is that? It was one of those moments when I felt lucky to have a person like that as a friend.

OK, that was a long set up for a somewhat simple point: Actions speak louder than words. Verbal offers to help are kind and considerate and sweet, and usually genuine (though sometimes not), but doing something will always trump a verbal offer. You know how people say “Let me know if there is anything I can do?” This is what I think: Don’t ask what you can do, just do something. Anything. That is maybe the one piece of wisdom that I hope to be telling my grandchildren some day. And it only took about four decades to learn.

In my life, I have not really known one person who was able to step out of the grief/fear/depression/bad place to think of a task that you might be able to do to help them. Sadness and delegation do not mix well. “Let me know what I can do” is usually met with “Thanks, that is sweet. I will.” and then…. nothing happens. Why? In general, I think most people do not like to ask for help or to impose. People do not like to be needy. People like to appear strong and not vulnerable. Or maybe I am just speaking about myself. Regardless, I have not heard one example of a person suffering through an illness or death or loss say “Actually, yes, can you pick up a few groceries for me and maybe make some dinner because I haven’t eaten a real meal in about a week.” Or “Can you whisk me away to a movie so I can escape for a couple of hours?” Or “How about do you something slightly cheesy but sweet, like get send me bubble bath and an apple-cinnamon scented candle and a trashy magazine.” People are just not that specific.

Also in the same vein and another phrase I wish I could retire is “Call me if you want to talk.” This I experienced first-hand during my miscarriages. It meant so much to get voicemails from friends, saying that they were thinking of me and that they were there for me, even though I was not reaching out. I was not going to call anyone, really, to talk, during some of those darkest and scariest moments. My grief made an impenetrable wall around me. The irony was that I had that wall, but I wanted people to try to take it down. I needed people to try to take it down. But every single phone call with a “I’m on my way to work and just wanted to let you know I was thinking about you” message I got knocked down a few of those bricks.

Even the littlest tangible gestures mean so much more than just words. That is my wisdom. That is the one thing I know for sure.

Thanks for all of the reassuring comments about the pacemaker/heartbeat issue. I am keeping track of the palpitations and will follow up with my doctor in three months. Until then, I am going to not stress about it. Stressing would only make the heart issue worse, no? And the cycle would just continue.

Pictured above, two of my friends, appropriately dressed for the rain, on their way to a miscarriage support dinner for me. The umbrellas are symbolic, no? As much as I like to shut out the world and crawl into a cave during my dark times, I feel so lucky to have friends who will climb in there with me. And also pictured, a year ago, this was us. I can’t believe tomorrow is our first year anniversary! We are dropping the kids off with their cousins and going to do something. Not sure what, since there is supposed to be massive rain tomorrow. But we are not going to let that rain on our anniversary parade.

11 comments:

K J and the kids said...

First of all....HAPPY ANNIVERSARY tomorrow.

2nd. I couldn't agree with you more. I've had this conversation with the wife a few times. with bed rest and post partum and 5 under 5...I had a lot of people say...let me know. I wanted to scream. JUST DO IT. JUST HELP ME. but I would never let myself ask.
I joke about help hoping that someone will say..ok. but alas.
I have also had a few occassions where I did ask and the person I was asking acted all put out and busy, which just reminded me why I never asked for help.

As always. love your post.

Anonymous said...

This speaks to me in a way that took me off guard, required me to close my office door and take deep breaths.

I've read your blog for a long time. My partner and I have a son around the same age as your girls, we moved just outside the city last year, and our families share similar dynamics. You are a good writer.

I just lost a baby at 21 weeks. After 2 fetal surgeries, a roller coaster of devastating and then optimistic and then even more devastating prognoses we made the horrific decision to terminate this pregnancy. I never EVER thought I would be in this place. And it is dark.

That was 2 weeks ago now, and the phone calls and voice-mails have stopped. And the cards no longer arrive in the mail. And I just wish someone would call and ask me to go to the movies. Because I cannot decide what movie to see or what time I should go and I cannot get it together enough to take the initiative to do ANYTHING alone. And I don't want to be alone, anyway. But I need to give my kid and my wife some space away from me, too.

And I appreciate people's respect of my privacy...but it is also my quest for privacy that prolongs my isolation.

Thanks for saying so well what I am feeling so strongly.

Denise said...

Anon,
I'm so sorry for your loss. If I lived close I would come and whisk you away for a movie.
Jennifer,
As always love your posts, and happy annivesary to you and Nicole!

Shelli said...

on the flip side, I'm a very genuine person, and I don't like to intrude on someone's private time, be it grief, loss, etc. I can be pushy, but to a point. I will do a Fresh Direct order for them, because be it extreme joy or extreme sorrow, often eating is the first thing to go. I will offer to come over, but I don't want to impose.

So I guess it's just hard to act when you aren't sure how to?

Malea said...

Maybe people are doing something and you don't see it because you have your own ideas of what there doing something looks like.

A lunch invite for you and the girls could be there way of getting you a break from the apt and some adult conversation.

One thing I've learned is that NYC is a far cry from the southern hospitality of showing up unannounced with a pie in one hand an a bottle of bourbon in the other.
People here are way too untrusting for those type jesters.So meeting people half way by saying what you need and asking might help.

K said...

Everyone makes some great points. I myself am going through a really bad time in my life and have been for awhile. I too have kids with my partner and she has decided to call it quits. She's been so unemotional about it and to add to the pain I'm pretty sure she is seeing someone else. This by no means is the reason we are breaking up but it sure as hell makes it difficult to ever get back together.

Not many people know but those who do have been quite kind. I do however agree with the fact that sometimes it's so nice to have them just do instead of ask. I know for me, the place I'm in leaves little energy or confidence to ask for help.

On the flip side however, being someone's friend, I know it's been really difficult for me to do in the recent past because I am caught up in my own hell and barely breathing every day. I know that sounds selfish but sometimes it's just about survival.

Hope said...

What you wrote about the voice mails struck such a cord in me...

There is someone in may family who has suffered for years.... depression, anorexia, alcohol, drugs; you name it, she's suffered from it. I'm from a very waspy background, these things aren't talked about. She is self destructive, and has burned many bridges.

I've always reached out to her, and when she lived near by, it wasn't a healthy relationship. Now she is far away, and I still reach out to her... by voicemail messages.

I call her cell phone, and talk to her. I've done this for years. She doesn't call back. Ever. But I still do it. Usually once a month, sometimes more, sometimes less. Why? Because a few years back she told me that it really means a lot to her to get those voice messages.

And that is enough of a reason for me.

Recently, she's started to text me back, every so often. Sometime she even sends a text, completely of of the blue...

I like to think that she's getting better. And I always want her to know that if she reaches out, someone will respond.

Hope said...

What you wrote about the voice mails struck such a cord in me...

There is someone in may family who has suffered for years.... depression, anorexia, alcohol, drugs; you name it, she's suffered from it. I'm from a very waspy background, these things aren't talked about. She is self destructive, and has burned many bridges.

I've always reached out to her, and when she lived near by, it wasn't a healthy relationship. Now she is far away, and I still reach out to her... by voicemail messages.

I call her cell phone, and talk to her. I've done this for years. She doesn't call back. Ever. But I still do it. Usually once a month, sometimes more, sometimes less. Why? Because a few years back she told me that it really means a lot to her to get those voice messages.

And that is enough of a reason for me.

Recently, she's started to text me back, every so often. Sometime she even sends a text, completely of of the blue...

I like to think that she's getting better. And I always want her to know that if she reaches out, someone will respond.

Dori said...

This is a good reminder. I have known for a long time that actions speak louder than words, but worry about intruding. I also worry that in a time of crisis the person is inundated with food/calls and that offering to help is overkill. However, even an inundated person can put extra food in the freezer. You've inspired me - I just emailed my friend who recently lost her dad, and (nicely) demanded to bring her dinner.

Jess said...

Wow! We were just talking about this today. Over the last few weeks I have had so many people say, "is there anything I can do?" But, a few people have just done and means EVERYTHING. You are so right!!! Thank you for your post.

Jennifer said...

To the commentor who just lost a baby: You said you live outside the city. This is a long shot, but in case you ARE looking for a distraction and you need someone else to make all the decisions for you: I really want to see the movie Precious next week. I would like to plan to go one night next week. I need check with Nicole's schedule to figure out which night, so she is home with the girls and I can escape. If you want I can let you know when I am going and if you feel like it, maybe you can come too. See how wordy clunk-ily that is worded??!! It is SO much easier to say "Let me know if there is anything I can do..."