Giving and Receiving Support

There is a poster hanging in my home that says, “None of us is as strong as all of us.”  It shows a strong-looking person, but when you look more closely, it is made up of a bunch of different people, put together like a puzzle.  And, if you add a space and an extra o to the word “none,” you get “no one.”  No one of us, alone, can be as strong as we are when we are working together well with others.  I have a physical disability and need help with activities of daily living.  My success is dependent on receiving physical help from others.  My biggest sources of help, physically and emotionally, are my family members and my friends. 

There are many different family configurations.  The simplest definition is “one or more parents and their children.”  As a concept, though, “family” can be broader than that.  If we think of family as not just a related group of people but as an idea, it is more useful and inclusive.  Living situations vary widely, but the key is that we feel loved, protected, and empowered to be our best selves.  So, anyone who helps us feel that way, regardless of their DNA, can feel like family to us.  Indeed, Edna Buchman wrote that “friends are the family we choose ourselves.”  Family relationships (whether by blood or by adoption) and relationships with our friends should help all of us feel supported.  Life is hard, but when we have people to share our burdens, we can get through it.

Being supportive to those who need you might not be easy or automatic.  It takes effort and awareness to be supportive.  It starts with looking beyond yourself, past your own problems, and wanting to help someone else.  Then, it is important to learn what the other person needs from you.  For example, if you like to give people flowers but the person can’t handle the aroma, you shouldn’t give them flowers.  Being supportive is about listening, learning, and caring.

When you need support from others, it is important to articulate your needs clearly.  No one can read your mind (well, maybe sometimes they can, but don’t assume that they can).  Get as specific as possible.  With a caregiver, speak up when you would like something done differently.  If both you and your caregivers are communicating effectively, you get your needs met without the frustration and stress that comes otherwise.  With friends, there are many ways to offer support, so be willing to share how they can support you best.  

Several years ago, my mom had a back injury that prevented her from lifting me for a few months.  During that time, several friends pitched in to help with all of my transfers.  One friend got me into bed every night and out of bed every morning and bathed me two or three times a week.  I have wonderful support from my family, who are my main caregivers, but at times my friends have stepped in.  Physical help is obvious, but emotional help is also vital.  I heard an analogy that humans are like puzzle pieces.  Each piece is different, but in the end they all fit together in the puzzle.  We all have strengths and weaknesses.  As we use our strengths to help with others’ weaknesses, and as we utilize the strengths of others where we lack, we become a valuable piece of the puzzle of life.

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