Help Has Several Faces

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Throughout my life I’ve been involved in helping and being helped. In earlier times I tended to take help more for granted. As a child I received help, some I wanted, some I didn’t. As a nursing student and RN I learned to offer purposeful specific health related types of help. It was what nurses did. As a teacher I learned ways to help my students. In familial and social relationships, I learned other approaches. From all of them I learned about the give and take of different helping relationships, somewhat as a matter of course.

Then came the time and experience of aging where my prevailing situation has become more often that of being the one in need of help, with only limited capacities and resources for helping others or even reciprocating to those who help me. Engaging with this helping element of aging led me to start looking at the basics of this helping business.

I began to see helping as consisting of three options: doing to, doing for and doing with. I looked for examples of each in my daily and found them.

I thought of those whose help involved doing to me.

I consult and use professionals to manage my physical health, e.g. the dentist, dental hygienist and physician who diagnose and prescribe and at times do to me, the pedicurist who keeps my (now distant) toes and feet in shape. Since I take the initiative in consulting them and the extent to which I follow up on their proposals, I still have some options. But I can readily foresee situations and institutionalizations in which the doing to will be increasingly extensive and out of my control.

The next “doing to” is less obvious. These examples involve those who knowingly or unknowingly communicate words and behavior that “do to” my mental and emotional status for good or ill.   But thus far, I sense that I do have some choices in how I use that input. (See Data are Neutral, My Reactions are Not 4/24/19, and Words Make a Difference 5/29/19)

Real, but even harder to detect, is the doing to by known and unknown people, businesses and institutions whose way of functioning or business model includes sharing information about me or purposefully invading my privacy with or without privacy forms (whose language is often so arcane and obfuscating that it’s hard to know what one is signing). They do to me without my knowledge.

I see doing for me as involving help that takes the place of what I would/might wish to do for myself.

Usually it occurs after learning what I need or want, but occasionally is based on what the helper thinks might be best for me. Sometimes it has been helping me to look at situations through “fresh eyes”.   And then there are people doing for me in ways that go beyond what I might have wished for, or even thought possible. And such thoughtfulness is as much a gift as the gift itself.

Finally, there is doing with.

This involves mutual engagement.   Here each of us has a sense of gains in the helping activity. The result feels greater than the “sum of the parts”. I’ll have to admit this is the most satisfying kind of helping I experience as helper or helped.

I find that each type of helping has its place.   Being an EWA-ing help recipient demands that I:

seek help appropriately in terms of when each type is most useful and desired

recognize the type of help that is being afford and respond accordingly

provide helpers with data and information to enable them offer help in ways that are most effective, efficient and satisfying to us both.

Putting One’s Best Foot Forward In a Different Way

From the time my sister and I were very little, mother taught us by word and deed about the need to “put our best foot forward” when we had guests or were guests (though she didn’t use those words). We were taught how to use eating utensils, table manners, greet people and manners in general. As I look back on it, I remember our home as usually neat and clean, but it needed to be especially so when guests were invited. Mother was a good Swedish cook and knew how to prepare a delicious, attractive meal and serve it well. As my sister and I grew up and started families of our own, we tended to continue what we had been taught and enjoyed doing it. It all was unquestionably friendly, but had a certain degree of formality to it.

Fast forward to the present. Aging has not only moved in, but has gradually taken over my capacities to put my best foot forward. My standards and efforts are the same. The friendliness is as present as ever, but formality and execution have flown out the window. I still can set a table, have everything set up and arrange for beverages, but prepare and serve a meal? No way! So guests tend to come bearing food. Once here, everyone pitches in, chaos occasionally reigns.   Service may be buffet style with guests serving themselves from a counter in the kitchen and returning there for “seconds”. And they usually want to help with the cleanup, though I’m still capable of doing the dishes. The casual comradery seems to feel as good to everyone as the genteel service of earlier years.

I don’t go out much for meals, but even at home I may need assistance in serving myself and cutting things into bite size pieces. Once I got over my shyness about this and could accept it neutrally as “this is what it is”, no one else seems to mind at all. As someone once told me, “No use getting your knickers in a knot over it.” So I’m learning to accept who and what I am on any given day, and others do too, thank goodness!

I also look back on my days as a nursing student in a hospital based program where much of our learning took place as we cared for patients for hours each day, and later when I worked as a nurse and head nurse on hospital wards. It seemed to me that patients perked up and tended to want to put their best foot forward when the doctors were making their rounds. And I too on my infrequent doctor visits find myself wanting to do the same.

Still, what’s important for both doctor and patient, or any other care provider and recipient is an honest encounter where accurate data on the actual status becomes available. Putting our best foot forward in this situation now would seem to be preparing ourselves (as our capacities permit) to provide/communicate accurate data on our status in relevant areas rather than try to be seen “at our best”.

In my last checkup visit with the doctor, I had written out a list of my current ARCs so I could quickly, sharply present them (and, in case my short term memory lapses kicked in). After he had asked his questions and done his inspection, I asked if he was interested in the status of my age related changes. He was. I brought out my list, explained why I had one, provided data on each ARC’s status. He asked questions and made notations. He had important data he would not have had if I had not prepared and taken the initiative. I felt I’d put my best foot forward in a new way.

So, I’m learning new best-foot-forward lessons. It’s still fine to try to be the best I can be, but it’s in a new way where it’s truly important to be who and what I currently am, warts and all.

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Aging is More than Health

Healthy:   possessing or enjoying good health, a sound and vigorous mind and body; freedom from disease or ailment

Health: a perspective for judging the status of mind and body, or the merits of a presenting situation in terms of being conducive to a sound body and vigorous mind

The way non-aged people view aging and the aged tends to be linked to their background and particular interests. Individuals, relatives, groups, disciplines, professions, businesses, legislators, economists and governmental agencies each view aging and the aged through their own mindsets, value systems and purposes.   Many of them include the health of the aged or their environments in their considerations and actions.

As a nurse, I was taught to view aging from birth to death from the perspective of health, normal versus abnormal.

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I looked at my patients and their environments through the lens of health and I worked for its promotion, maintenance, preservation, treatment and palliation. My viewpoint was wide-ranging even as I aimed for specificity with individual patients. But in my mind (rightly or wrongly), health however applied, tended to involve gradients of healthy and unhealthy.

Now, decades into engaging with my own aging, I find that seeing aging solely, or even primarily, through the lens of health is too confining.

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I sense that it can put blinders and dampers on truly significant facets of my aging experience. That bothers me.

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I don’t question that my health is hugely important to the quality of my life and aging, nor that my behavior and activities are strong influences on my health. I know that my health determines what I can engage with and how I am able to engage.   It’s just that I’m discovering that aging is so much more than health.   For example, nutrition, hydration and exercise are seen as three pillars of healthy aging. Yet the experiences of eating drinking and moving about each day encompass so much more than the health promoting considerations.   I experience the sensory elements, the tastes, textures, aromas.   I recall wonderful associated memories of food-related occasions, both ordinary and grand. The same holds true with movement related experiences. Thinking about the richness of these memories it makes me want to anticipate and enjoy them in present and future activities without having to look at them through the lens of health during the experience.

My aging is filled with intangibles of life and living, with all its richness, its flaws, its details, its marvelous surprises and unexpected pitfalls.   It’s the contemplation of life and death. The experiences of blessed solitude and the warmth of companionship with people who have such wide interests and fresh ideas or different experiences of the past. It’s the seasons and weather in all their dimensions. It’s art and music, comedy and drama.   It’s my vistas of mountains and water; the busy daytime city and the quiet, amber of its nighttime. It’s the ballet and battles of hummingbirds at the feeder and the busyness of mason bees going in and out of their homes outside my kitchen window. It’s the movement in tall evergreens in the invisible winds and their windless stillness. It’s the comfort of a cat on my lap and the warmth of hugs. The aroma of the first cup of coffee and the uncertainty of completing the morning crossword puzzle.   It’s the joy in feeling fulfilled. It’s the mourning with losses. It’s being both needy and yet capable of helping others. It’s knowing and still learning. It’s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I don’t want to feel hemmed in by obligatory calculations of their effect on my health in the midst of these experiences.   I want to freely, profoundly experience all these and more, unalloyed and unexamined.

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I’m not foolish. I want to retain and use my health lens appropriately and creatively. I want and need to securely keep and use it . . . . in its proper place.