By Dave Balch
I’m going to tell you one of the best things and one of the worst things that can come out of a serious illness: friends and family that want to help.
The good part is finding out who is willing to step up to the plate and help. Usually a situation like that brings out the best in people, and they offer to do whatever it takes to lend a hand. We had friends who offered to come and clean our house! We also had neighbors who volunteered to come over to pick up the horse manure. It is truly heartwarming to see how people jump in to help and volunteer their time to do whatever you want them to.
The other side of the coin, however, is this: people that BEG you for something to do, putting pressure on you to find something for THEM to do so THEY will feel better. In the midst of dealing with a serious illness, that’s the last thing you need.
Here’s what I say: protect yourself from well-meaning but stress-producing people who create stress when trying to relieve it. The ONLY thing that matters is what YOU need and want. Period. It doesn’t matter if others disagree with you, because you know yourself and your situation best. An offer to do something that would thrill one person may completely put off someone else. Cleaning our house was a very generous offer and I’m sure that some people would jump at the opportunity, but for it wasn’t for us. We already have a cleaning crew that we’ve been working with for 15 years, and besides, we don’t want our friends going through all of our stuff!
But sometimes it’s hard to say no because you don’t want to disappoint people and you don’t want to appear ungrateful. Protect yourself! Thank your friends for the offer and then suggest something else that they can do instead; something that you DO want them to do. If they decide that their original offer is really what you need, even if you say you don’t, then stand your ground. Never accept help that you don’t want!
Other times it’s hard to say yes because you are concerned that if they do what they offered to do they will regret offering it in the first place. Example: the people who offered to help by picking up the horse manure. Here’s the lesson: it’s not your job to protect people from offering to do something they don’t really want to do. And it’s not your responsibility if they end up doing something they don’t really want to do. If they offer to pick up the horse manure and I say yes and they hate it… not my problem!
I’d also like to make a distinction between what we need and what we want. There may be things we need but that we don’t want: the stress comes in when people do things for you that you don’t want them to do, regardless of whether you truly need it or not. Just because you need something does not mean that you are required to want it, so don’t let anyone tell you what you need as if it were something that you also should want.
The opposite is also true: sometimes you want things you don’t truly “need.” Says who? If you want something you want it, and that’s all that matters. Example: a meal from your favorite restaurant. It would be a nice treat but you don’t truly need it because you have other food in the house. Don’t let anyone poo-poo something just because THEY don’t think it necessary.
We are all brought up to believe that “life isn’t about you” and it is wrong to be the center of attention. I say that when you are dealing with a difficult life challenge, it IS about you and you should ask for what you want and refuse what you don’t.
The bottom line is this: protect yourself from well-meaning people. Do accept and say yes when you want what they offer, and say no when you don’t. Nobody knows what you want better than you do, and if they don’t understand that then it has to be their problem, not yours.