Care Capsule

Do You Have To Be Asked?

— Susan Bourne

As I have tried to incorporate more care and kindness into my life and behavior, I have begun to realize that often actions speak louder and more clearly than words. It can be difficult to know how to help someone in need; words of comfort don’t always feel like they are enough. In an effort to offer more help, I usually say “I am here if you need me. Just call if I can help you.” My hope has been that by offering to help, it shows that I care. However, having been the recipient of those “just call me” statements, I now realize that it isn’t always enough.

There have been times when I have needed help and friends and family have called to offer their sympathy and most have even said, “Let me know if you need anything.” I know that their offers were meant to be kind and helpful but I was still faced with dealing with my problem all by myself and I was left with the burden of asking for help – something I am not good at doing. What could I really ask someone to do? Walk my dog? Do my laundry?

During the last year, two people offered to help me in very specific ways. Their simple offers of help and their willingness to take on a small task each turned out to be extremely kind and helpful. They didn’t solve my problems, but they eased my burden and (perhaps, most importantly) … I didn’t have to ask.

Last year I had minor foot surgery and hobbled around for four weeks post-surgery, struggling with my day-to-day responsibilities: getting ready for work, walking the dog, laundry, grocery shopping. While it took much longer than usual, I could do most of these tasks. A few, however, were too difficult and were therefore left undone. Lots of people called to check on me, and many said to call if I needed them, but again, what could I really ask someone to do? I was embarrassed to ask for help and I didn’t want to burden anyone with my little problem.

A few days into my recovery, Karen, one of my neighborhood dog-walking friends, knocked on my door. She said she hadn’t seen me on my daily dog walks and wanted to be sure I was O.K. I told her about my surgery and explained that it was just too painful and difficult to walk the dog. Karen, seeing an opportunity to help me out, offered to take my dog on her daily walks until I was able to do it again. My relief was huge. I hadn’t had to ask for help and her offering showed me in a strong way that she really cared. Karen’s offer was so kind! She saw my need and volunteered to help me with something specific.

About two weeks later a coworker, Sarah, asked me how my recovery was coming along. I gave her the usual response, “Oh, just fine. I’m still hobbling around, but my foot seems to be healing.” Sarah asked if there was anything I needed – the dreaded question. Seeing me at a loss, she offered to go grocery shopping for me. She said, “You are probably running out of groceries, so why don’t you write up a list and follow me to the market after work? I’ll run in and grab what you need and then load it up in your car.” What a fantastic idea and what a huge help! I took Sarah up on her offer. Although my shopping only took Sarah about 15 minutes, it would have taken me over an hour.

Don't wait to be asked!

These two situations made it clear to me how a small action can be so much kinder than making a generalized offer to be available if needed! Neither of my friends fixed my problem – an injured foot – but both eased my burden. They were kind to me and offered a caring and thoughtful way to help me out when I needed it.

It is important to listen to your loved ones. A shoulder to cry on is a blessing. But another way to show your support is acting on your offer to be there and—more importantly—not waiting to be asked. It doesn’t need to be a big deal or a burden to you. You could offer to drop off a sick friend’s child at soccer practice or pick up their dry cleaning. Or, like my friend, you could shop for a few groceries for someone home ill. There are endless little tasks in everyone’s life and a simple offer to help with one of them can be a thoughtful way to show you care.

But remember: make the offer; don’t just wait to be asked!

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