Through a mutual friend, I got wind that someone who is more than just an acquaintance, was navigating treacherous divorce waters, and was in danger of losing her house in the very near future. I sent her a text, letting her know I was deeply sorry for her troubles and if there was ever anything I could do for her, to just ask me.
There it was, that cliché sentence we have all used countless times for lack of anything better: “if there is anything I can help with, please let me know”. As if someone who just lost a spouse, a child, a job, her health is really going to pick up the phone and call us for baby-sitting or cooking duties. We might have felt like we did the right thing in offering hep, but we did nothing more than appease our conscience.
Could it be that too much technology at our fingertips has turned us into lazy friends? Texting, dropping birthday messages on Facebook walls, sending a quick email have all replaced the more personal touches of picking up the phone, extending an invitation or sending a card. If technology has facilitated connections with our fourth grade long-lost friend, it has also introduced facelessness into some of our closest relationships.
While mulling over the futility of my text, I suddenly realized the importance of all those casseroles that tend to appear in the wake of someone’s death: the ones I always thought pointless when I was a child, a spoiled little brat uncomfortable with eating food someone other than my mother had prepared.
For help to be meaningful, it really has to be tangible. When something terrible happens, we veer towards the thinking that our friend or family member only wants to retreat under the cloak of their grief and shut the world outside. Partly, that is true, but lending a hand in helping another strike the right balance between retreat and normality might be more useful than respecting their solitude.
It’s always hard to ask for help, proud and independent beings we have all become, even under the best of circumstances. When disaster strikes and we can’t think of anything else than our woes, asking for help often is the last thing on our mind. In the wake of a loss, focussing on cleaning the house, grooming the dogs or making dinner for the children can become insurmountable tasks – while going through the motions of trying to keep ourselves and our immediate dependents afloat, I have no doubt it would be easier if a friendly face showed up, uninvited, to volunteer some of those duties.
A few years ago, at the apex of a crisis, sofagirl suggested I go visit her on the other side of the world. I teetered, it all seemed too difficult to organize. “I will help you pay for some of the ticket” she offered, sensing my hesitation. Two weeks later I was on a plane. Spending ten (hazy) days in Cape Town did not erase my problems – they were all there, dutifully welcoming me when I disembarked at LAX – but taking myself out of my head for a little while, eating food prepared by the sofa family and being able to discuss my issues face to face with my best friend tangibly nudged me on the way to recovery.
About a week after I sent the text to my friend, I called her up. She was more forthcoming about her situation than I expected. I listened, commiserated and then I suggested I help her pack her house when the time comes. “Really, you would do that?” she seemed taken aback.
“Yes, I moved so many times I am as good as a professional packer. We’ll eat take-out, have a beer and it will go faster” I replied.
“I really would like that” was her answer.
My help won’t ease her sorrow and it will only ease a hassle – we all have to walk the road to recovery pretty much alone but I have no doubt a friendly face at some of the pit-stops is more appreciated, and more useful, than a faceless text.
All images found in the public domain