Do you ever feel like getting someone to help you with a project, or seeking counsel when you’re stuck in some way, is a sign of weakness? To some people, if they can’t figure out a problem by themselves they think they have failed. This type of person seems to believe that they should be able to handle anything. If you feel this way from time-to-time you know the kind of emotionally and physically stress it can put on you. I know. I’ve been there. My name is Terry and I’m a “recovering independent-holic!”
I remember how I felt when I began caring for my aging father. Before I was able to get a county aide in several times a week, and prior to when I was able to arrange hospice care, I was his primary caregiver living nearly 200 miles away from him. I traveled over three hours in one direction to get from our house to his apartment across the state. I spent the day grocery shopping, cleaning, doing laundry … and listening to him complain about the way I did just about everything. In between visits I worried constantly about whether or not he was okay.
I quickly learned that although he needed my help he also needed to be in charge. By having him come out to the kitchen and tell me where to place the groceries I’d just purchased he became more involved with his own care. That helped him to better deal with his situation, but it did little for me. I still found myself feeling inadequate, as if I should be able to anticipate his needs and provide for him before he asked.
He wasn’t the first person needing hospice care that I’d assisted. One of my first ministerial assignments began in 1989 when I became director of visitation for our church, providing services for people with HIV/AIDS in various Los Angeles hospitals and hospices. When I began caring for my dad I was already an experienced minister, had just received my first licensed as a social worker, and had a master’s degree in that field. In my mind these facts only upped the ante for me to set higher standards for myself than I was capable of attaining. Surely I should know how to handle this!
Well, I didn’t. I had all that prior experience, training and expertise that was useful in caring for strangers and teaching others, but precious few of those tools made sense to me when I looked at my own father. After three months of eighteen-hour days once a week I sat at his feet in front of his recliner, looked up at him and said through my tears, “I don’t know now to do this. I just don’t know how to do this anymore.” He just stared at me. I told him I was doing my very best, but nothing I did seemed to be good enough. I told him I felt like I was completely failing him in providing for even his basic needs. I suggested he find someone who could help him the way he wanted, because I was tired of crying all the way back home every week and feeling helpless about it.
He started crying. My vulnerability and refusal to think I had all the answers opened the door for him to admit how useless he felt, how angry he was that he couldn’t do even the simplest of tasks for himself, and how much he resented having to rely on the son he felt he’d failed as a father. After 50-plus years of being at odds with one another I honestly think I felt our hearts crack open. It was a breakthrough moment for us both. Over the next three years we still had our differences and disagreements (many quite unpleasant for one or both of us, if you must know!), but most of the time we worked as an interdependent, symbiotic unit to direct his care until he passed quietly one morning.
Ultimately, all we have at the end of the day is whether or not we are happy with our life; no one else but us is responsible for our happiness. Still, in this amazing universe in which we live, move and have our being, we are surrounded by other independent, autonomous spirits having their own human experience. Why not help one another instead of competing, isolating and alienating?
Here’s a thought for you to ponder and play with this week if you desire. If you’re stumped with a situation, even after meditating or approaching the problem through affirmative prayer (like the spiritual mind treatment I’ve written about before), why not ask for help? Where would you find that? In the people around you, that’s where! They can be a trusted friend, a partner/spouse, a mentor, a minister, your spiritual guide or a therapist.
It’s not a sign of weakness or lack of independence to seek help. I find doing so takes the edge off of feeling like I have to do everything. Would you be willing to give that a try this week? Is there something you would like to move through or beyond? I’d be happy to be there for you. If so, reach out by contacting me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. It would be my honor to support you!
In Spirit, Truth and Playfulness,