Getting the Help You Need

Caregiver Assisting Depressed Girl in Need of Help

“What I learned from my own experience is that family caregivers are the ones holding everything together – and they’re paying a high price, including putting their own health at risk.”

Sheila spoke these words when her dear friend was diagnosed with cancer, and she became a caregiver for the first time. For years, Sheila emotionally and practically supported her friend, who dealt with a rare form of cancer that started in her salivary glands and moved into her bones. Sheila was just barely managing to keep her own life together while at the same time helping her friend. And then crisis hit: Sheila’s widowed mother slipped into what she describes as a, “long and painful decline.”

Just when it didn’t seem possible to continue caring for both her friend and her mother, Sheila received a life-transforming phone call from a therapist inviting her to attend a special meeting of 12 people who would become partners in caregiving.

“When people offer their help, they’re being generous. Nora Klaver, author of MayDay!, says, “An offer like that comes from the heart!: Asking for Help in Times of Need. “But it amazes me how often people refuse even when others generously offer help.

Why do people refuse to ask for or accept help?

Klaver says that often we are struggling with our fear.”We may fear damaging our relationships,” she says. “Losing control might be another fear. We might also worry about appearing weak or incapable of managing our own lives.”

Beyond fear, there are many other reasons why caregivers choose to “fly solo,” including:

  • Caregivers face equally important tasks and conflicting demands.
  • Finding and coordinating help adds to an already overloaded schedule.
  • We may become lost in a maze of services and paperwork. By the time help becomes available, it may be too little or too late.
  • Agencies often limit help based on qualifying criteria such as age, health condition, income, or even geographic location.
  • Companion or chore services are often costly and rarely covered by insurance.
  • Volunteer groups and faith communities may offer help but it may be sporadic or time-limited.
  • We or our loved ones may be reluctant to open our lives and homes to strangers.

Some caregivers want to help but don’t know how or fear getting too involved, adding to their reluctance.

When diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in her shoulder, Pam in Massachusetts both needed help and provided it to others. As the young mother of three, Pam says, “I desperately needed this, and accepting it enabled us to maintain some normalcy in our lives when everything was very fragile.

Creating a Volunteer Network to Support Families in Crisis

Through her experience, Pam met another resident who received meal preparation assistance from friends and neighbors. They spoke of the “angels” who helped and envisioned a network to assist families facing short-term crises. This dream led to a volunteer network with over 300 members providing meals, shopping help, yard work, childcare, and transportation.“It’s a feel-good thing. You see in the eyes of people helping that they feel good about what they are doing….and they want to do more,” says Pam.

As the volunteer network has grown, Washek has turned to technology to help keep everyone and everything coordinated. Current postings of needs, a scheduling calendar, message boards, status updates, email reminder notices, and even blogs are available to approved “helpers” through Lotsa Helping Hands.

Lotsa Helping Hands co-founder Hal Chapel says, “It’s difficult to ask. It’s even harder to keep asking for help many times. But with Lotsa Helping Hands, the family member doesn’t have to ask for help. People see what is needed, decide what they can offer, and then step forward.

With resources like these available, family caregivers can determine how, when, and from whom they will accept help. Having that type of control over one’s life can make all the difference in whether you ask for help when it’s needed.