Helping Hands That Really Help

| October 14, 2010 | Comments (6)

Lotsa Helping HandsWhen I was a kid, my mom had a radical hysterectomy. Still not an easy operation today, back in the days before laparoscopy, this surgery required a large incision and weeks of healing — tough to do with two little kids running around.

One of the most distinct memories I have of that time is a of neighbor who came to offer help. My mother tried to demur, but our neighbor was insistent. “I have six kids, so don’t waste my time arguing,” she said. “I only have an hour, so tell me the one thing that is driving you crazy that you can’t ask anyone else to do, and I’ll do it.”

My mother hesitated, but only briefly before she said: “Bathrooms. My husband doesn’t have a clue about how to clean a bathroom.”

“Done,” said our kind friend. And it was. My mom felt good because she was no longer grossed out by our bathrooms. Our neighbor felt good because she had been truly helpful. And I’m sure my dad was thrilled.

I promise not to go all religious on you, but bear with me while I make a point. A few years ago, our rabbi gave a sermon about gemilut hasadim, or acts of loving kinds, considered one of the three pillars of Judaism. She stated that performing an act of loving kindness was obviously a mitzvah — a good deed — but she went on to argue that was also a mitzvah to give someone the opportunity to do an act of loving kindness.

In other words, asking for help, when appropriate, is the right thing to do.

These two lessons have had a profound impact on how I see my role in the world — both as a giver and a receiver of kind acts. In times of crisis, I believe most people want to help. But asking someone in crisis “How can I help?” can almost be another burden, usually resulting in a freezer full of casseroles (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

What I have come to believe is that people are more interested in helping if they know that it will really be helpful. Similarly, people in crisis feel their burden is lessened when they receive help that is meaningful in their situation.

Great. Fabulous. So we should help people, but only if we know it will really help. Unfortunately, that can be easier said than done. And in the case of a long-term or chronic need for help, burnout is often a factor even among the most generous of givers. It’s difficult to coordinate a large group of volunteers over the long haul when we all lead such busy lives.

Enter my friend, who is in the middle of her own family crisis. An impossibly busy person, she is someone who knows how to get her ducks in a row and she has tackled this crisis with the energy and determination of a seasoned field marshall. In putting her support system into place, another friend recommended a Website called Lotsa Helping Hands. The first line of their site states: “We created Lotsa Helping Hands to answer the question what can I do to help?

Lotsa Helping Hands is a free, private online organizational tool that allows individuals in crisis (or a support team) to organize and invite members of their own community to provide the help they need when they need it. It’s also a great tool to use when organizing community or school-based events, and can be used to support new parents or relieve caregivers. I certainly wish it had been around when my twins spent five months in the hospital and a year on oxygen.

The website is easy to negotiate and it seems like a pretty simple set-up process. This is one of those ideas where I smack my forehead and wonder: “Now why didn’t I think of that.”

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Category: Chicago

About Alma K: Alma started her personal blog,, in 2006--right around the time her firstborn began speaking in sentences. She now has two girls, 5 and 3, and lives in a 100 year old house in Oak Park. Husband Josh works from home part-time, which makes the juggle of working full time as a creative at a large downtown ad shop that much easier. The daughter of a Foreign Service officer, Alma spent her childhood moving from place to place. She moved to Chicago for college at age 18 and never left. If it wasn't for the winters, she'd never dream of leaving. Follow Alma on Twitter @marketingmommy. View author profile.

Comments (6)

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  1. Shari says:

    What a great idea! I watched my parents care for two chronically ill parents — one lingered with Alzheimers for more than a decade. I know how hard it is on the caregiver and their family. Sometimes people don’t even realize that others are willing to help if asked. When you are in the middle of your own crisis, it seems impossible that others (with their busy lives) are able to help. I’m going to send the site link to several friends who need help and who can offer help.

  2. tracey says:

    What a neat website! It’s always easy to offer help, but can be quite difficult to actually accept it.

  3. Lisa says:

    Very cool idea. I SUCK at asking for help. When my mom passed last year some good friends were wonderful about bringing meals, which I’d never understood before this. It was a huge help. Many others offered other help but I simply was not able to accept any additional help. I’m still trying to dig out of the disaster that became my house during that time.

  4. Susan @ 2KoP says:

    Lisa, It’s great to have friends who just know how to step up to the plate, but it’s good to ask for help when you need it, too. They call them stressful times because they are just that — stressful. And stress can take a huge toll on you and your family in ways that are hard to measure. Learning to ask for help can be really hard, but it’s a good lesson.

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