When 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.”