My friend Paul Johnson works
at a hospice in Minnesota.
He is also the primary caregiver
for his wife, Barb.
Her brain tumor and subsequent surgeries
have left her with stroke-like symptoms.
He cannot leave her by herself.
Laundry, cooking, cleaning, shopping—
it’s all his now to do.
“I’ve learned that people do want to be helpful,” he told me.
“But what they think will be most helpful to me
is not necessarily what is most helpful to me.”
People in his church, for example,
volunteered to bring in meals regularly,
and Paul is appreciative of their kindness.
But Paul enjoys cooking and he’s good at it.
What he needs more than food is time—
time to run errands, to exercise at the Y,
to attend evening meetings.
What would be most helpful would be for people to stay with Barb
and converse with her while he is out of the house.
“I’m learning to be more bold,” he said,
“about asking for what I really need.
It’s not easy for me to do, but I’m getting better at it.”

Sometimes people really do know what would help us most;
their offers are sensitive and timely, exactly what we need.
Other times people intend well but they don’t quite understand
what life is like for us—the stresses, the difficulties, the handicaps.
Believing their desire to help is sincere,
we can facilitate both their willingness and our own readiness
by communciating what is true for us:
“Thank you for your kind offer.
Right now, however, I have a greater need.
May I tell you about it?”
Our honesty can lead the other person to feel fulfilled,
knowing they’re doing what’s clearly helpful for us.
Such honesty can also ease our load as caregivers,
giving us a bit of a lift.

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