Dear Older Self,
I know you remember times when you offered help to elderly friends or family members who were truly in need of help, only to have your offer of help refused. You could see they needed more support than they were getting and you offered possible solutions but they were not willing to engage in conversation about their needs.
Remember the older man who was leaving his wife unattended during the day? His wife was struggling with Alzheimer’s and in danger of leaving the stove on, or even of wandering away from the house. You offered to organize people to stay with her, to come yourself, to look into a day care center for people with Alzheimer’s where she would be safe. But he wouldn’t consider any of these things. You had to step in with other friends and family members in a stronger way to keep his wife safe.
Remember the older woman who could no longer clean her home? Between failing vision and congestive heart failure, she simply could not do what needed to be done. You offered to come over and run the vacuum and dust each week, or to hire a cleaning service. But she would not hear of it. She insisted there was no problem. You watched over the next months as things continued to deteriorate.
These two elderly people did not see their need. Or, if they did, they were unable to receive your help. This greatly added to your distress. It made it so much more difficult to help them.
Sometimes in the name of “not wanting to be a burden” you may actually be acting in ways that are self-seeking and self-protective. The truth is that you may become more of a burden by refusing the help you need than by graciously receiving it.
So, please, dear older self, do not refuse help and support when it is offered.
If someone offers help you do not think you need do all you can to really hear them out. It is true that you do not want to give up more independence than is necessary. It is true that if you can run a dust rag over furniture—even over just a few items of furniture each day—it is good to continue with this activity. Express your need to do as much as you can. But listen as people share their concerns. Maybe even ask them to make a recording of themselves sharing their concerns, observations and offers of help, so you can listen to them a few times and take it in.
Pay attention to your fear and shame and pride. These are the things that can get in the way of your willingness to stay open to receive help. Write or talk about your resistance so you can begin to let it go.
Perhaps you are afraid that the person offering help will become tired or resentful. Perhaps you privately fear that you do not deserve to be the recipient of their kindness. Perhaps your needs have gone unmet in the past and this has led you to conclude that your needs were shameful or that you can only rely on yourself.
Your growing need for help and support as you age is a huge challenge. But hidden in this challenge are important opportunities. Your needs create an opportunity to experience love, care and support from others. Your needs create an opportunity to take in the kindness of others. Your needs create an opportunity to receive with a grateful spirit, and to bless those who help you.
In order to take advantage of these opportunities you will need to lean away from your pride and defensiveness and toward humility and receptivity. You will need to begin to practice saying “Yes” and “Thank you”.
It might help to pray for the courage and humility to begin this new way of responding. It might help to share your difficulties with receiving with those who are offering you help. And it might help to remember the spiritual value of learning to accept gifts of love and care with an open, grateful heart.
Grace flows where honesty and humility open the way. Pray for the courage to embrace your limits with humility and receive the gifts of help that are being offered. You may be surprised by the relief you feel when you accept help. You may even laugh as you playfully slap your forehead and say, “What?! I could have been enjoying this all along! What took me so long?”
Please, dear older self, accept the help that is being offered with a grateful heart.
This meditation is taken from Notes to Our Older Selves: Suggestions for Aging With Grace by Juanita Ryan and Mary Rae. You can get a copy at Amazon.com