I've only had glimpses of what it's like to be crippled, but I feel the pain of others acutely, as if it were my own.
After shoulder surgery, I couldn't lift my arms. This made washing or feeding myself impossible. Kidney surgery was no picnic either. I fell in love with every fleet-footed angel leaving a cool cloths on my wrinkled brow, or a fresh warm blanket over my restless legs. I can never repay them for soothing my pain, and never imagined being so incapacitated.
The nurses on the fourth floor took care of everything, from clean sheets to jello for my stay with such effortlessness. Tethered to a beeping machine and bags of fluid, I was helpless and would have been hopeless without them. My consistent friends in that recovery room were the DJs of Radio Parkies and the voice of Ira Glass (This American Life.)
Consider modesty and your personal dignity- of all the people you know, who could you ask for such help, if you had no choice?
You said you wanted to know who your real friends were and who meant it when they said they loved you, and this is the part where $hit gets real!
If you can't afford to hire a home nurse when you are released from the hospital, and you live alone, you may have no choice. And what if you just need someone to pop in and flip your blankets or see if you need a drink of water? People are busy, so very busy, and we’re acutely aware of the fact that our friendships are entirely voluntary. To bother anyone, or feel like a burden can feel worse than suffering alone.
If you ask for help, you may suddenly meet "the most important people" who will not share their time with you, but they do make time to give you every detail of their "insane" schedule. The whole world is chaotic and the roadways are mostly jammed, but those who matter will show up when they can.
You'd be surprised at who shows up, but you have to ask very clearly and specifically for what you need, because we all get distracted and language is easily confused. An hour alone, prone and in various stages of agony feels like a week, but try to remember how those who are arriving to help you are in a different reality and on a different schedule. This is not personal.
Did you hear me? It's not personal...who comes to help and who isn't around at all in your time of need. There are other factors at play we may not be aware of… still, please don't be afraid to ask. Allow others to help whenever possible. Most peers cannot be expected to anticipate the needs of others with consistency or skill, when they’re trained to do exactly that, and even as empaths.
When someone gives you excuses or ignores your glaringly obvious need, instead of just offering a "Hey, how are you?" or a "Can I stop by next week?", this is guaranteed to make you feel even more worthless, and unloved. A sharp reminder that you're not productive, and thus cease to matter to the healthier more vibrant world outside your window. Out of sight, out of mind!
Human contact in these times makes all the difference. It's the main medicine, man, so get with the program! Most of us are secretly terrified of hospitals, practicing a strict avoid sickness, as if the scent of ammonia (or urine) might bring us down too. Maybe the scent of TV dinners makes you nauseous enough to stay at least 50 feet from every nursing or palliative care facility.
Get a mask. Put on that happy shiny face we see in all your Instagram captures, and go tell another human being they are loved. It's free, and it doesn't hurt. Your presence alone can make a difference, even if you are afraid to be near illness or disease.
Depression is equally terrifying to most human beings. If tell people to snap out of it, offering stories of how we pulled ourselves up from our bootstraps, that proves we know exactly nothing.
Allow me to propose that going to see a sick friend is as much of a gift to you as it is for them. . Don't take my word for it- the next time you feel low and worthless, I suggest you find a simple way to help someone who is shut in. Start small, you don't need to visit every room in the nursing home right away. Burn out is a thing for all who are in service.
Maybe start with your grandmother, who is no longer capable of leaning down from her wheelchair to pick up a medication she dropped.
Don't stand in her doorway wondering why her voice sounds weak but also shrill. She's been staring at that pill for 10 hours, damning her own hands that no longer work, she's also forgotten to eat and needs help changing her undergarments.
Not everyone has the resources to hire professionals for such situations, and remember that we're all headed in this direction.... if we are fortunate to live so long. If your body works you can help someone for an hour. It might even give you a shot of dopamine. Turns out doing something for someone else can make you feel good too.
We all intend to do what we can to help someone feel a bit more comfortable in such a hellish circumstance. Roll up the sleeves and just do it. This is the holiest work.
Once upon a time, your grandmother was just like you. Same desires, same lifestyle (though in different times), and similar preoccupations of self. It is possible to set aside your own dogged schedule for a while, and just listen.
Open her window so she can have some fresh air, wash her sheets and blankets and put a nice warm blanket around her shoulders. Offer her some snacks and cut them in small pieces and help her eat. Yes, of course you are busy, and yes, we all have important things to do, but what is more precious than this moment?
An unedited excerpt from a not yet published book on how to deal with grief- yours, and that of others.