Dear Older Self,
I imagine that there are things that you have been accustomed to doing for yourself that you may no longer be able to do. This means, of course, that you will have to rely more and more on others. It also means that you will have to ask for help.
If you can find ways to acknowledge your growing need for assistance and even embrace these changes with honesty and humility and even with moments of humor you will save yourself and others a great deal of unnecessary distress.
And, dear older self, as you learn to acknowledge your growing need for help please learn to ask directly for the help you need.
You will do well to keep in mind what this means and what it does not mean. Asking directly for help means identifying your need and then letting others know about it in a way that is respectful and clear. Asking directly for help does not mean being demanding. It does not mean being impatient. It does not mean putting your needs before the needs of others. It does not mean assuming that no one wants to help. It is far more helpful when we can communicate our needs in a way that honors the needs of the other person and in a way that assumes the best of the other person.
Please tell those who are supporting you when you are experiencing a problem. Think of how much suffering would have been avoided if your elderly family member who hid his growing leg pain would have stated simply that he was aware of experiencing pain in his leg and asked for help in getting medical attention. You could have looked at your schedule, or called others to see who might be available, and made arrangements for this need to be addressed. Instead, the problem with poor circulation that could have been treated, tragically, led to him losing his leg.
Remember the relief you felt when you were wanting to help elderly friends and family and they were able to ask directly for the help they needed? Remember when an elderly parent began to ask for help with chores he could no longer do? He did not pressure or demand, but simply let you know what he has needing.
You may fear that asking for help directly will create burdens for other people. But you have seen the opposite to be true. Not asking for help when you need help is far more likely to create a burden on others. When you are able to ask directly for the help you need you will actually be helping those who care about you.
As difficult as it may be to ask for help with physical or medical needs, asking directly for more time with others can be even more difficult. This is an area where you will be in the most danger of becoming either silently resentful or demanding and even hurtful. When the people you want to have more contact with call or visit, you may find yourself acting disrespectfully or saying harsh things, like “Why don’t you ever call?” or “Why don’t you ever visit?” At the very moment other people are reaching out to you they may feel the sting of your unspoken and unmet expectations.
Perhaps you have been telling yourself that you cannot ask directly for more contact with family or friends because it is too vulnerable to ask for this. Or perhaps you worry that you may be expecting too much. It is true that talking directly about these needs is a vulnerable thing to do. It is also true that some people may not be able to respond in the way you would hope.
Stating directly that you are grateful when they call and grateful when they visit is a good start. But it is also possible to say clearly that if it is possible for them, you would love to talk with them more frequently or see them more. In this direct statement of your desire you are offering them an invitation. They can respond in whatever way is possible for them.
Asking directly and respectfully, with awareness of their needs as well as your own, is honest and humble. And, as risky as it may seem, it is far better than the risk of letting your resentments grow and your feelings come out in coldness or harsh remarks. It is also far better than gossiping to other family members about your disappointments and resulting resentments.
You have been on the receiving end of indirect hints and unspoken requests. “It sure would be nice if someone could get some coffee around here!” one elderly friend, who was being cared for at home, would shout. “Nobody ever comes to see me,” an elderly parent sometimes commented, while you were visiting him.
Dear older self, in order to not fall into this same trap, check in with yourself. What are you distressed about wanting or needing? Write about your needs and wants. Think about someone with whom it would be appropriate to share your concerns and talk it through with them.
If you have a list of needs and asking directly for the things on your list makes you anxious, begin practicing the art of asking directly and respectfully about just one item. You can admit to those caring for you that this isn’t easy for you. Let them know you are going to be working on this so they can be aware that this is difficult for you.
Asking directly and respectfully for what you want and need is vulnerable. But vulnerability is the soil in which love can take root and grow. It is here where isolation is broken and connections are formed. It is here that the exposed need can be met with kindness. It is here that intimacy happens.
Ask directly and respectfully for what you need. This is the only way that others will know how to best support and care for you. It will open the door for help to come, for grace to flow, for love to walk in.
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