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  • Writer's pictureELIZABETH EDWARDS

Asking for and Receiving Help: Unexpected Lessons from when Life Shows Up - Guest Author Nancy Ruffner, Patient Advocate

Updated: Jun 26

Recently a couple of friends and colleagues reached out to me because “Life showed up” in their worlds and they needed a favor. It gave me time to think about those instances when we “Get By With a Little Help From Our Friends,” as the song goes. 

That notion is true. We really do need the help of others from time to time in our lives. We may be honored or happy or challenged by a request but to me it's all good work. I began to contemplate the needs and the responses that I have observed or been a part of, as only recently had I learned that I was not with the mainstream when it came to asking for – and receiving - help.

I am someone who will tell you that she has hung her hat on being (overly) independent. I can probably still count on my fingers the number of Asks, real Asks, that I have allowed myself to deliver in my life. It took a series of life events to debilitate me (I thought, so independently), to get me to that point where I had to ask. In truth, it shouldn't, or couldn’t have taken that degree of need - trauma-level need - for the ask to occur. 

Intellectually I knew that folks give and take all the time, and that is normal in life. However, in my case asking for help had been a sign of weakness, and I was stubborn. When I finally performed an Ask, I was mortified.

You see, I had yet to learn this concept called INTERdependence. 

In my mind I had it all wrong. I thought that to become INTERdependent I had to give up INdependence. Not so.

It was all so normal (to everyone else but me). I was preparing for surgery and had just moved to a new state where I knew less than three people. (Gulp). How would I get there, get home, recover? This time my staunch INdependence, which had always served me so well, was coming back to bite me. 

Turns out that I need only ask, and the other person was too happy to assist. And then soon after I was asked to help and happily pitched in. (So that is normal, ohhhh).

Of course, when it had been my turn to ask, I’d delayed or had built things up in my  mind to such a degree that the Ask was a towering, 5-Alarm matter. In reality I was simply asking for a lift. I asked my friend if she would drive me to the hospital on the day of my surgery. The ensuing gifts and lessons that followed were life changing, and beyond what such a humble little Ask might deliver  (right on up there with “beyond the wildest dreams” -level stuff, I tell you).

     I need a ride; she drove me (and so much more).

     Later she needed help with something; I gladly pitched in. 

We had established INTERdependence, whose elements are social connectedness, mutuality, and reciprocity. We enjoyed betterment, we are better people for these shared experiences.

And I didn’t die (neither has my friend), and I didn’t lose ME. In fact, I became a better me.

I learned this lesson: INTERdependence allows for INdependence, and does not mean DEpendence. It opens your life up with its elements: social connectedness, mutuality, and reciprocity.

Wow. We remember the lessons learned that were really hard (or painful) for us, don’t we?

This was an odyssey-level experience for me, and the learning did not stop there. I found myself entering INTERdependence in another way during that time, too.

In preparing for my hospitalization, I was gathering my medical facts and contact persons, names of all providers, etc. It was to be a ready-sheet to keep all my information at hand and my Go-To persons in the loop. All this resulted in a tool I now use in my work and give away so that it can serve patients and their loved ones anywhere. You can read the story of The Face Sheet Tool here and it is available for free download here. 

In my work as a patient advocate and with my specialties in successful aging and solo aging there are many conversations about building a team. Creating a MicroBoard, as I refer to it clinically, and working against allowing our worlds to become smaller as we age. Later in life is a time to build, not dwindle. 

We talk about, either informally or professionally, building the MicroBoard (aka “Circle of Care,” our Team, the “Village”) that will help us to age successfully. One way to step into that kind of thinking is to identify your 3 AM Person.

Do you have a 3:00 AM Person, the person you can rely on for help if you have an urgent need at 3:00 AM? Well, ”Who you gonna call?” (Anyone hearing the Ghostbuster theme?). No, really.

That's a funny-but-not question. Who do we have around us to help, have we identified some folks, or might that be the work before us? Our needs are not always at 3:00 AM or 5-Alarm in nature. There are so many casual needs and we can satisfy them with our Team, and so it is one we must build. 

Whether Microboard member or 3 AM Person they most likely are happy to help or serve, and there's the component of kinship and purpose that are huge. Admit it now, weren't you pleased the last time someone called upon you and you could help? It's good work. 

Let us return to that notion of INTERdependence. We would be well served to understand the difference between INdependence, DEpendence and INTERdependence. It may also be good to examine where we stand within those concepts and whether we are where we need to be.

My little (but HUGE) scenario was this:

I needed a ride; my friend gave me a ride.

Same friend needed help soon after; I was too happy to assist.

In a nutshell, I learned:  

In asking for and accepting help from someone I did not lose myself, nor my INdependence. By asking for help and receiving it, the INdependent person did not become DEpendent. I didn't lose ME, rather I entered INTERdependence, and that provided even greater gifts. I could enjoy INTERdependence and retain my INdependence. Re-read that last line again and let it sink in.

I must mention the other gifts found inside INTERdependence. I have discovered purpose, the good feeling brought about by being of service, and I have benefitted from those elements (which looked so textbook-y before): social connectedness, mutuality, and reciprocity.

Perhaps a sense of normalcy was also gained when Ms. INdependent Nancy grew to both realize and value that responding to an Ask was fun, or gratifying, that it was no sweat to help my friend. This kind of thing goes on all the time. I found myself with what seemed like a greater capacity, able to move between INdependence and INTERdependence, and so freely.

  • How are you going to get there? Begin with that 3 AM scenario.

  • Who are you gonna call?

  • Do you have someone identified?

  • Can you be the one called upon for help? 

I love that slogan from some insurance company a few years back because it sure rings true: “Life comes at you fast.” Are you ready?

*Nancy Ruffner is a patient advocate whose focuses include aging strategy, healthcare navigation, and solo aging. Nancy consults with clients in a triage fashion, offering one-hour consultations to ind a path, gain a deeper understanding of “how stuff works” in eldercare, or specifically to problem-solve. 

Schedule your "Hour of Power" now, without obligation of commitment or

continuing costs.

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