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Is There Anything You Need?

Is There Anything You Need?

Don't ask, just help.


"Is there anything I can do to help? Is there anything you need?" the voice said over the phone. Sheila's daughter had abdominal surgery and needed (more than) full time attention. Her house was a shambles, her other children at loose ends. And here was some available assistance... Or was there?

Asking most women if they need help (especially in today's "desperately trying to be super mom" world) is a useless question. Between our quest for martyrdom, our need to prove ourselves and our discomfort with being the taker not the giver, the answer will almost certainly be a resounding no. Reality to the contrary.

We don't like to acknowledge need. We don't like to feel dependent. We feel uncomfortable asking for anything. So despite the fact that there are actually many things we need, despite the fact that there are numerous ways we could learn and grow from being in the position of recipient rather than donor (more compassion for others in need, greater awareness of our dependence on the Almighty to cite two examples), we just can't get those words past our lips.

We have a very hard time asserting our needs (except sometimes in the form of screaming at our husbands for not intuiting them), so we deny ourselves the respite or assistance we could really use, and we deny our friends and relatives the opportunity to help.

What's the solution? For those who are not just assuaging their consciences by asking if they can help but who mean it sincerely, there is one successful strategy: Just do it. Just insist on it. "I'm bringing dinner tonight." "I'm coming by this afternoon to take out your children." "I'm sending my housekeeper over tomorrow morning."

When we are coping with disease, injury or other trauma, we can barely think about our daily needs. We are relieved and grateful when someone else takes charge and leaves us with little choice. This applies even to those of us who like to be in control (perhaps especially to those of us who like to be in control).

I remember seeing this summed up in a perfect yet practical manner in the book "In an Instant" by Lee and Bob Woodruff. Bob Woodruff was an ABC new co-anchor who was seriously injured in Iraq and, among other things, spent five weeks in a coma. Lee, his wife, had to balance her husband's needs and her family's needs, her anxiety about him with her concern for her children. "In the entire journey following Bob's injury, Karin's expression of friendship was one of the most appropriate. She handed me a goodie bag for the plane, with magazines, candy, gum, aspirin, and a toothbrush. She fought back tears valiantly and gave me a giant hug. Then, with barely a word, she jumped in her car and drove away. Just like that.

"It was friends like Karin whom I would come to rely on and be amazed by. These were the friends who refrained from calling repeatedly, friends who dropped off meals and food and slunk away. They made Costco runs for toilet paper, took my children for playdates, and drove them to soccer practices, confirmation classes, and countless other extracurricular activities.

"Karin had nursed her father through a serious time in the hospital and knew how to behave in the wake of a tragedy. It meant simply letting someone know you were there without any expectation of a response. Even when I pushed them away, my dear friends quietly pushed back."

Just do it. Don't wait for a response. Or as Lee Woodruff says, "Don't expect a response." Your friend is overwhelmed, her world has constricted, her focus is narrow. Being a good friend means forgetting about ourselves and thinking about the needs of the other, and being proactive. The time for talk will be later.

We shouldn't ask, "Is there anything you need?" We know there always is.

Recently one of my children had surgery. The operation is 4-1/2 hours, the recovery long and difficult. "I'm bringing you Shabbos lunch," said my friend (who hasn't read the Woodruff book but knows my reluctance to ask for help).

"It's okay, I'll just make cholent," I gamely responded. Even her declarative statements couldn't break through my defenses.

She insisted yet again. Luckily my husband was eavesdropping on the conversation. "Just say yes, just say thank you," he coached.

"Just say yes," she echoed. And with that, a small weight of responsibility slipped from my shoulders. A pressure was removed.

I know that I have been guilty of taking someone's "I don't need anything" at face value. I haven't wanted to intrude or be too aggressive. And it can be a delicate balance. But I think I've learned to just do it. A meal will always come in handy (especially if it can be frozen) and who couldn't use some help with the children or the house?

We don't want to 'bother' our friends. And so Lee Woodruff describes the ideal solution: Don't. Just drop off the food, the household needs, the books and magazines -- and leave. Our friends will be grateful and relieved. We will have made a difference. We will have provided much needed help -- and perhaps taught a lesson about giving and receiving in the process.

I was so drained by my daughter's surgery and the whole hospital experience (that was before I knew about the sleepless nights of recovery!). I was incapable of thinking beyond the moment. I was reconciled to having all the other needs come crashing down upon me when I returned home. I knew I would cope. I knew that, with the Almighty's help, I could cope. But there is always a cost. And so I am grateful to my friend for her insistence and her action. Every small act of kindness grants us relief, makes us feel cared for and not alone. Her gift was more than cold cuts and salad (it was seven layer cake also!), it was a gift of understanding and friendship.

We shouldn't ask, "Is there anything you need?" We know there always is. Our job is to discover the needs (most people's are similar to our own), try our best to fulfill them -- and drive away.

August 30, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 14

(14) Avrohom Lukacs, September 7, 2008 8:33 AM

I understand

I have been doing this of offering to people what ever they need, day or night, including volunteering, I have been helping out others for over 30 years now. I am available for my family, my shul, my Rav and the shul members. In the shul, that I daven, I am the KING OF CHESED,

(13) Anonymous, September 4, 2008 10:23 PM

I've read many of the comments. I sincerely feel that Mrs. Braverman is trying to suggest that instead of just saying "call if you need anything", make offers like "I'm going shopping, what can I pick up for you?" or "my cleaning woman has a free day, are you in need of household help?". No one wants to be in the position of being in need, (and I know first hand, I'm raising a child with cerebral palsy ) but individuals like myself whose problems are very apparent to the public would really appreciate if friends and shul members would come forward. An entire book was devoted to this issue ( If there is anything I can do by Rebecca Feldbaum). Let us hope that Moshiach will arrive so that there will be an end to pain and suffering.

(12) Anonymous, September 3, 2008 2:11 PM

Very grateful

After the year of suffering and then loss of my son we had no words to express our thanks to the many people who came out of the woodwork to help us. But one woman still stands out as the one who gave the most woderful gift of frienship and caring. It was a month or more after the shiva and a cold winter's erev Shabbos. My front door bell rang and there she stood with a cake for Shabbos. "Just wanted to let you know that you are not forgotten and we all still feel for you and love you. Good Shabbos" and she was gone. Once again I thank her from the bottom of my heart, that gesture taught me a lot and it is something I now try and do as much as I can. A meal for a new mom a month after birth is very much appreciated.

(11) Rachel, September 3, 2008 9:43 AM

Just Say Yes

I disagree with Ms. Braverman. If I need help and someone offers it, I graciously accept. There are 2 components to this: 1. It's infantile to say "no" when you really mean "yes". 2. When I accept help from others, I am giving them the opportunity to do a mitzvah. And it's not like I'm just a "taker". Last year, I was desperately ill. The outpouring of assistance from shul, neighborhood, and colleagues, both Jews and Gentiles, made me realize how important I was to so many people. In many cases, the help proffered was more than I had ever thought I'd given first (e.g. significant financial help from a colleague to whom I'd merely been kind about a parent's illness and supportive during a tough period at the office.) And in other cases (e.g. non-Jewish neighbors for whom I'd prepared meals when there was illness in their families), they could not respond in kind, but they offered other forms of help. Some years ago, a family member who was ill and out of work came to live with us, a stay that was supposed to last for 2 months turned into 2 years. When my children would occasionally complain ("why do we have to be so quiet, it's OUR house")and then claim that this person was lucky to have a room with us, I would always tell them the same thing: "No, WE are the lucky ones to have the opportunity to do this mitzvah for someone in need." So, enough with the supermom/martyrdom nonsense. If you see someone who needs help, offer what you can give (I unfortunately often have to refuse requests for financial assistance, that's one that I simply can't do.) And if you need help, accept it when it's offered. In my book, grown-ups are people who communicate.

(10) Karen, September 2, 2008 11:08 PM

Yes, So True!!! Great article!

I very much agree with this idea. People do not usually like to take the help that is so much needed, but when it is in front of them, they have no choice,and cannot refuse, and they will appreciate it. I often do this. I know that if I ask my friends, they will reject the help, but the key is "Emor me'at ve aseh harbeh". Just do it, is right!!! We need more people to just help, and stop worrying about the semantics. This world would be a better place! Thank you for a meaningful article that hits home.

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