You would have seen the man with his shoulders hunched forward and his head watching the floor as he rapidly shuffled down the corridor to escort the paramedics to apartment C104, his rapid, gasping respirations revealed his level of stress. He paced through the dining area of the apartment that was not home, he had a confused look on his face as he fingered items on a table; familiar items on a table that had belonged to former generations. The table and the items he could relate to, but their placement in this apartment was foreign to him, they belonged at home, under the window where they had been for years. One of the paramedics convinced him to sit for a few moments and gave him the phone number for the emergency room while keeping an eye on his heavy breathing. I was summoned to the bedroom to assist with getting his wife ready to be taken in the ambulance. Standing in the hallway looking in, I could see her sitting on the edge of the bed with impeccable posture. Under her very thinning tufts of hair was a face smiling at the men assessing her. She had her overnight bag fastidiously packed and with the efficiency of a veteran nurse had her husband’s medications organized and labeled for him for while she would be gone. The men stepped out of the room and without any false modesty she allowed me to assist her in putting on a fresh, comfortable nightgown which satisfied her need for “trip to the hospital” decorum. She took hold of my arm and was pulled to a stand. I held onto her hips, placed her cane in her hand and turned her over to the medics who accompanied her to and lifted her onto the waiting gurney. While taking her purse and overnight bag and jockeying the gurney out of the apartment, the paramedics assured us that the E.R. nurse would phone and give us an update as soon as possible. We were told to rest here, there was nothing we could do if we were sitting at the hospital in a hard, straight chair. I was happy for their conviction and authoritative voice. Once the apartment door closed, the man was unsure what to do and once again fiddled with the items on the little table. After pushing the furniture back to the original configuration, I sat at the dining table and beckoned him to join me. He thanked me for being available to assist them and choked on his words, unable to mask his emotion. Resting his forehead in his palm, he relied on his arm to keep his weary head from plopping to the table. I knew that he valued pride, as only those from America’s Greatest Generation do, considering vulnerability a weakness and neediness an abomination. I told him that I consider them family and that these are things that family members do for one another. I explained that I truly understood how difficult it is to receive help from others and that it has been something I have struggled with for the past twenty-six years, since Prader-Willi Syndrome entered my life. Feeling needy and vulnerable can weigh on a person, until you realize allowing others the chance to be of assistance is a gift to them. Especially during times of grief or trouble loved ones want to help you. What they really want is to take away the hurt and eradicate the source of the pain, but since that is not within their power they want to help in whatever manner they are capable of. For some that might mean lessening a financial burden. For others it is any number of practical, tangible chores that need to be done, such as gassing up a car, providing meals, cleaning house, laundering clothing, and tending to children. Some people’s best way to help is to simply listen, provide a shoulder to cry on or a hand to hold. Everyone has their own best ways to help and their best can change according to the circumstances of need. As Emily Dickinson once said, “They might not need me; but they might. I’ll let my head be just in sight; a smile as small as mine might be precisely their necessity.”
This willingness or desire to be of comfort and help to others is part of one’s character and allowing others to fulfill that desire is part of your character. It is a difficult thing to swallow some pride and let other folks in. By doing so you are giving them a peek into your vulnerable recesses, often areas that are too painful to bring out in the light but when you do, your loved ones benefit. They benefit because they get to help you.
I fumbled my way through some of this with this hurting, defeated gentleman. He was gracious, accepting and grateful, but still broken by the burdens of a body and mind that were neglecting to serve him in the manner to which he was accustomed. I started this tale by telling you what you would have seen, but should share with you what I saw that night. As I arrived at the building’s door, standing before me was a man who amid his chaos and confusion was chivalrous enough to come hold the door open for me. I saw a man who worked himself into a state of anxiety because he could not grasp the idea that a well packed bag took precedence over the urgency of getting prompt medical care. In fact he shook his head with bewilderment as he said to me, “She won’t let me call 911 yet, but her bag is neatly packed! See what you can do.” I saw a memory of a giant taking a dark haired girl by her hands and swinging her in a circle before turning back to tend to the charcoal in his handsome new stone backyard barbeque. I saw the formidable stony face of a man approaching his sports car that was smashed against a tree in a ravine and I saw the movement of his jowl as he watched the dark haired girl whose flesh was whiter than usual walk to him unscathed from the accident. I saw the man who stood proudly and broken-hearted by his son’s casket. I saw a man who was learning how to live in a new period of his life, just like he had done before during times that were not of his choosing. I saw a man whose breathing had returned to normal pat and squeeze my hand while I was talking to him. I saw a man who had resigned himself to the fact that his wife was where she needed to be and he should go to bed. As he said, “we’ll just sit here staring until we annoy each other, there is no reason why you shouldn’t go home to bed.” We embraced. I kissed him on his forehead as I had promised his dark haired girl I would. I gathered my belongings, took the trash to the hallway, closed myself out of the apartment and went to my car in the icy parking lot. After starting the car, fastening my seat belt and adjusting the heater, I looked up at the apartment building; in the doorway, watching to see that I made it safely to my car, I saw a man.
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