“Let me know what I can do to help.” My husband heard that a lot.
“Praying.” He heard that, too. And even though he was never one for church, I know he sucked in the prayers just in case they’d help me with my survival.
In fact, he was ready and willing to take anything, but mostly he got a lot of what he called posturing. Hot air and well-wishing.
It’s like when you invite your neighbors over for dinner already knowing they are out of town, then take credit for making the offer. It makes you feel good, but you didn’t have to throw two more steaks on the grill.
Here’s what my husband really wanted: Follow-through.
He wanted the steak. He wanted those helpers and those prayer sayers to put on their shoes. My husband needed someone to vacuum the car. (Actually, I needed that. I don’t think my husband notices filth in the car.)
When I got cancer, my husband was in a predicament. He and I are self-employed entrepreneurs. We lived in a rural community. No family was close and our parents were in their 90s anyway. Every trip to the grocery store involved a long drive. Our daughter, age nine, needed rides to school. The options for eating out, even if we could have afforded the extra expense and calories, were extremely limited. Our drive to chemo was 400 miles roundtrip and required a two-night stay in Silicone Valley where a Motel 6 costs upwards of $350 a night, if you could get one.
My husband needed someone to prune his roses. Oh, wait a minute — that’s me again.
He needed someone to cook a meal, change the sheets, take the kid for an hour. He mentioned once that had someone offered to take our daughter for the night, it would have been like getting an all-expenses-paid vacation to Tahiti.
He was so busy making runs to the pharmacy, logging my med schedule, and spending hours on the phone trying to make his way through the Obamacare insurance nightmare that he had little time left to run our lives, and all the prayers in the universe weren’t going to put dinner on the table.
So much to be done
I remember a moment after my first chemo session when I stood next to a dryer full of hot, freshly laundered clothing. I wanted to fold them, but I couldn’t. Maybe if I sit on the floor, I thought, I can pull the clothes out more easily. I sank onto the tile, my back resting on the wall, and reached for a T-shirt. That’s when I realized the futility of my effort.
Sixteen weeks of chemo stretched before me, and I knew I was going to get a lot weaker before I’d get stronger. That meant that my husband was going to have to do the laundry. And the cooking. The childcare. Cleaning. Bill-paying. All while running our business.
I sat there on the laundry room floor overwhelmed with the reality of our situation. It was embarrassing, a bruise to my ego, that I couldn’t even lift a small basket of laundry. That the idea of hauling it up a flight of stairs to our bedroom seemed insurmountable.
That day, I was fortunate because my friend Crystal was at our house, and I asked her to do the laundry for me. I wasn’t ready yet to admit to my husband the extent of my weakness and what it foretold about the reality of our future. Honestly, I didn’t know how we were going to cope, or how we’d weather the financial and logistical toll of the road before us.
Women are often caretakers. Whether we have full-time jobs or not, we do a lot of the homemaking. For me, that’s the way I like it. Making meals, tending a garden, keeping things tidy gives me satisfaction.
When the person assuming that role gets pulled away, through her own illness or through the need to provide care-taking for another, she needs practical help.
So, prayer sayers, why not put on some shoes? Instead of saying “Let me know what I can do to help,” how about saying, “Would you mind if the kids come to my house for a few hours this weekend? I’ll bring them home after dinner.” That’s prayer come to life.
My wish for cancer patients, and for their caretakers, is that they never again hear the often empty-sounding offer of “Anything I can do?”
Instead, I hope they get more.
That list you have on your refrigerator? (On the refrigerator, that needs to be wiped down regularly?) That list is what real prayer is all about.
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