Help Has Several Faces


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.

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.

87 1

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.

87 2

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

87 3

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.

87 4

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.


Data About Me Are Neutral But I’m Not Neutral About Them

78 1

As a nurse, I learned about health-related data. I learned how to collect them appropriately and correctly, how to report them in usable form and how to use them to guide my nursing care. Often they were numbers ( temperatures, pulses, respirations, blood values), reports of surgical procedures and tissue findings. They also involved patients’ and families’ responses to the situations they were facing. I cared about their being accurate. The data themselves were neutral, neither good nor bad, just what they were and what they represented. The diagnoses and other judgments resulting from the data were also neutral to the scrutinizers and decision makers. But for the person generating the data, they all carried emotional weight that was anything but neutral. Data could elate! Data could depress! Data could frighten!

Now as I face daily the reality of my aging and the environment within which it is taking place, once again I am purposefully gathering data. But now I have to remind myself (sometimes forcefully), that indeed the data are still neutral and separate from my reaction to them. It is what it is. I need to keep in mind that my reaction is itself data that I need to use neutrally in order to engage with aging in the most effective way. I am what I am — no more, no less.

A sampling of frequent data these days includes:

I drop things, often. Reaction: frustration !!!!!

A sense of “near-fall” when I bend over to do things or turn without thinking. Reaction: my stomach “drops” and I experience everything but the fall itself. Near-falls leave me shaken and frightened (though massively relieved and grateful that the fall did not occur).

There are numbers on my scale. Reaction: Happy when they are the same or a bit less than yesterday. Reaction: Resolve to eat prudently when they are higher.

More hunger after a meal that should have been satisfying than I had before I started. Reaction: “That’s unfair.” Sometimes I resist giving in and eating more/sometimes I eat more; sometimes I deliberately get busy and distract myself till the hunger passes.

Signals of fatigue before tasks are completed. Reaction: resistance + dissatisfaction. Occasionally leaving task unfinished for the time being.

Recuperative periods characterized by an almost vegetative state when I’ve purposefully or unavoidably exceeded my limits. Reaction: impatience or “It was worth it” or both.

My balance is becoming noticeably tippier, as is my ability to rise from sitting to standing. Reaction:   Concern about how much longer I will be able to manage safely in my highly prized independent lifestyle.

In my intake visit the doctor pronounced me “healthy” and the blood work numbers a week later verified it. Reaction: walking on air. Relieved — “So far, so good.”

Careful comments from my family identifying blind spots or concerns. Reaction: wish they hadn’t been necessary. Sometimes guilt because I should have known better. Always gratitude that they are willing to do it and are so careful about how they do it.

Much as I believe in it, my seeing data as “neutral” is not automatic. I know that data are tools to be used for adaptation and I do use them that way.   But even with these beliefs and experience, seeing data as neutral is still a conscious decision that I have to make almost every time.

78 2