This is part 2 of a series on exploring fiscal responsibility, generosity, and social good. Read part 1 here.
I despise needing help. I’m a proud independent first-born American woman, and I can do it myself or it isn’t worth doing. I’m a hard worker, smart, and capable, so I want always to be the one giving help. I never dreamed I’d ever be receiving it.
When Elli was born with devastating birth defects, we landed on the other side of helping – receiving it. This was almost as difficult for me to take as her diagnoses were. It went against every part of who I am to acknowledge that even though I had done everything right and had always before been able to handle anything and everything thrown at me, I couldn’t do this. I struggled to stay awake driving to and from (and even during) during my daughter’s therapy appointments. I’d wear clothes covered with spit-up all day because I couldn’t put her down long enough to take a shower or change, nor could I stand to throw a steady stream of clothes onto the dirty-clothes pile towering in the corner (I couldn’t keep up with the laundry either). I had to let our church family bring us meals for months because there was no way I could do the grocery shopping, cooking, or cleaning AND care for our baby AND myself. I Could. Not. Do. It.
I remember one day, a week or two after we brought Elli home after her surgery, talking to my mom on the phone. She told me that not only did I need to accept the help that was offered, but I needed to ask for help. My mom knows me well. I knew she was right, but it was (and continues to be) a difficult struggle.
I will never forget the people who brought us meals for weeks and months, or the people who drove me to the hospital to spend the day with Elli. Scott would drive to work, then to the hospital after work to spend the evening with us, and then we would ride home (and keep each other awake) together after visiting hours ended each night. Others came into our home and washed dishes and dirty laundry (can I just say that having someone else fold my underwear is incredibly humbling?) and sat with Elli so I could take a much-needed nap. One friend came over on Friday nights and got up with Elli so that I could sleep one uninterrupted night per week.
Learning to accept help, and to ask for it, was a hard-won lesson. It still is today. But it helps me understand where other people are coming from when I offer my help and they resist.
But asking for and receiving help around the house or with children is one thing. Needing financial help is quite another. I will never forget the day I opened a bill from the hospital. It stated that our amount due was $68,000… in ten days. After I stopped shaking from panic, I called the billing office. What a relief to learn it was sent by mistake and that insurance hadn’t paid yet. It was a terrifying awakening to the cost of open-heart surgery and weeks in the CICU.
We fared all right, since Scott had good insurance. Even so, we’ve made payments to the hospital almost constantly for the last 13 years (especially as our benefits decreased and copays/coinsurance increased). But we’ve always been able to pay the bills down to zero at some point. And somehow, checks always seemed to arrive in the mail just when things got desperate.
Not everyone fares so well. I have good friends who look at their hospital bills like a mortgage payment – they will always have these bills and will never pay them in full.
And… little-known fact: even after a child dies, bills remain, often into the tens of thousands of dollars. Paying those bills hurts. I bawled when I paid Elli’s funeral bill, sobbed all the way out to the mailbox. And all the way back.
But sometime help hurts in a completely different way. Sometimes it feels helpless in the face of problems too big for one person. And sometimes, helping does harm.