We’ve all heard this statement. Some of us may have even used it. It’s one of those all-purpose statements that people may use when they don’t know what to say or do. It could be at a funeral. It could be when someone has reached their breaking point emotionally, mentally or physically. It could be said to newly-diagnosed cancer patients or patients already going through treatments.
The person hearing the words may believe they are hollow and meaningless. The person saying the words may actually want to help and be asking for direction. Without an answer neither party wins. The person who needs help doesn’t get it. The person who wants to help continues to feel helpless because they don’t know what to do.
To improve the situation, we, as the person who may hear the words, need to decide how to respond to the words before we actually hear them.
Why don’t we answer?
Before we can respond, we have to figure out why we may not want to answer. In fact, in most cases, we promise to let the other person know what they can do to help and then never contact them. Why do we make these false promises? Why don’t we tell people what they can do to help?
What can we do to make sure we know what to say?
We can make a list of everything that we worry about getting done. This should not be time consuming because it is uppermost in our minds. In fact, here are a few examples of items that could be on our ‘Ask- for-Help List’:
Once we have a list, we have to do two things: decide who might be the best person to ask to do each of the tasks and the dates when we want the tasks completed. For example, we could say, “I have chemo on Friday and my worst day seems to be the following Monday. Would you consider helping me by making your great chicken casserole on August 13th?”
The above example includes a reason for needing help on a certain day. For someone who may struggle to ask for help, providing a reason may actually be a way to make ‘you’ feel better about reaching out.
By providing a date when you could use someone’s help, you reduce the possibility that multiple people will provide you with the same kind of help on the same day. If you don’t tell people what they can do to help, many people will chose to bake for you. Who doesn’t need to eat? The problem is that if you know a lot of people who like to bake, you could end up with too much of a good thing.
Saying what you would like gives you the opportunity to compliment the person on one or more dishes that they make that you and your family love. By specifying what dishes you like, you ensure that the time someone spends on making a meal is not wasted. There is nothing worse than someone making food to help you and then have no one want to eat it. Someone made me a casserole when I was going through cancer treatments and no one else would eat it. I ate the same food for days so that I didn’t waste it. Luckily I really liked it; however, after eating it for four or five days straight, I was no longer feeling the love.
If someone can’t make food for a particular date, maybe they would be willing to make something you can freeze and pull out when you need it. Give them the option.
In the end, you know the people you’re asking for help so you know the best approach to use. Do what feels comfortable for you.
Why should we answer?
We’ve all been in a situation where we’ve wanted to make matters better but did nothing because we were afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing and making the situation worse. By giving an answer to someone’s question about what they can do to help, we allow the other person to feel useful instead of helpless. We remove any doubt about whether what they are doing is something we actually want and need. Giving them something to do will let them feel a sense of accomplishment.
We can feel a sense of accomplishment too, because by asking for help we remove one of your worries, even for a day, which allows us to take care of not only us, but also our families.
Be prepared. Having an answer ready means we can sort out the details in person. It also removes the opportunity for us to talk ourselves out of asking for help. The longer we wait to provide an answer, the greater the likelihood that we’ll break our promise to get back to someone and, ironically, it will be us who has made the hollow and meaningless statement. We have the power to make this a win-win situation by providing an answer.
Over 30-years of writing experience, over five years as a cancer survivor, and a lifetime purveyor of wit and laughter.
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