People often say that helping others makes you feel better, and it’s true, you do feel better. I used to try to help people, but then a rebellious thought hit me. Wasn’t it a bit arrogant to assume we know what other people needed? Has anyone asked the ones who are helped how they feel about receiving such help? Sure, in dire situations like the Louisiana floods, people rally around, as they should. But in everyday matters? Shouldn’t we wait to be asked before we decide someone needs to be helped? I’ve seen situations where the elderly are “helped” into being dependent, and the quality of their lives diminishes dramatically. Sometimes people no matter what their age rebel at a being given a helping hand, preferring to do for themselves. Which is at it should be.
I was perusing blog posts this morning, when I came across a post that mentioned me. The blogger referred to an open letter to blog readers I’d written where I said “So what if I still have a hard time being around coupled people? That’s my problem, not yours. So what if I still feel lonely and sorrowful after six years? That too is my problem, not yours. The truth is, missing one’s mate is something that lasts a lifetime. Think of all the good things (and bad) you have experienced during the past six years of your couplehood. Well, guess what? I haven’t had any of those experiences. I have done a lot of interesting things, but no matter what I do, what I experience, how I grow or stagnate, I do alone because my mate is gone. And if that still affects me, what difference does it make to you?”
I didn’t think I sounded needy in that post, and I certainly didn’t feel needy. (Exasperated, maybe, but not needy.) Apparently, though, the blogger was upset that some of my friends still expected me to get over Jeff’s death and move on. Which was fine — I didn’t mind her being upset even though I wasn’t particularly bothered by what my friends said, especially since that wasn’t the gist of my article. (The gist was that I am a writer. Everything anyone does to me or around me belongs to me and provides ink for my pen.) What upset me was the conclusion to her post where she wrote that she and a couple of partners were starting a business and how they “wanted our business to help people like Pat.”
I’ve been online friends with this woman ever since we fell into the grief maelstrom about the same time, so I understand her desire to help others, but her assumption that I needed help made me uneasy. Diminished me. As if I she thought I couldn’t handle my life.
Her post reminded me of the beginning of my grief cycle, where people would write and say they wished they could take my pain away, or that they bled for me. I hated that. My grief is my own. I didn’t want anyone to take it away from me. I don’t need help, not that kind.
Right after Jeff died, a lot of people offered to help, but they wanted to help by giving advice. The one person who really did help found out I was defeated by the thought of cleaning that big house by myself before I moved out, so she showed up with a friend and carload of cleaning supplies and spent an entire day cleaning. Now, that’s help! But other kinds of help? No. I’m not interested, thank you. Unless you want to buy my books, of course.
Truly, if you want to offer me a helping hand, buy my books! Write reviews of my books. Do something to promote my books. What I need is a living, and since I am a writer, I would prefer to make a living from my books.
The rest of my life, for now anyway, I’m handling just fine on my own.
(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)