Excerpted from “To Ask for Help Is to Give a Gift”
“What can I do to help?
“What do you need?”
As the news about Deloris spread through our Island and Seattle communities, friends immediately began asking what they could do to offer support.
“Send positive thoughts and prayers for her recovery” was my initial response.
I couldn’t think of anything else I needed, other than having my wife returned to her normal self. Near the end of the first week, a different answer became clear. I needed food. I had neither the time nor the energy to shop and cook. It was late each night when I returned home from the hospital. While I was hungry, all I wanted to do was unwind. I didn’t want to worry about cooking something. Being able to give a specific response to my friends’ questions led to the first of many lessons I was to learn. I could not do this all by myself. I had to ask for help.
Initially, I found the asking hard. I grew up in a caring community and lived in one now. My mother was a social worker, so I knew about giving assistance; requesting and accepting it, however, was a different story. I grew up in the 1950s, instilled with the American spirit of self-reliance. Asking for help implied inadequacy. It was an admission that I was not self-sufficient. I struggled with the dilemma raised by the ideals of independence and self-reliance juxtaposed against my belief in community and collaborative efforts.
My friend Barbara told me, “Look. Asking for help is giving your friends a gift. You are allowing us to do something for you. If you don’t ask for help, you deny us this opportunity. You like to give gifts. Do it.”
This reframing resolved my internal conflict. It gave me permission to figure out what I really needed and ask for it. Despite this, the first time I asked was very difficult. The response my request elicited, however, made successive times easier.
“I need food,” I emailed. Within hours, someone had posted a schedule asking people to sign up to deliver meals at specific times. In the ensuing weeks, I arrived home from the hospital to find meals waiting on my doorstep. In the previous years, I had been a vegetarian and then an Atkins diet devotee. Now, I enthusiastically welcomed whatever food showed up. My culinary preferences and previous dietary restrictions were no longer important. Anything ready to eat was wonderful. The potential for leftovers was even better. If it appeared at my door, I ate it. Worry about my diet was relegated to a time when an issue that insignificant could once again demand my energy and attention. Meals prepared with care and compassion, I felt, would overcome any empty calories and increased carbohydrates.
Title: Learning to Float
Author: Allan Ament
Allan and Deloris Ament’s lives take a dramatic turn when Deloris suffers a debilitating stroke. No longer an equal partner in marriage, Allan becomes Deloris’s primary caregiver, responsible for maintaining their household and her well-being. Learning to Float describes Allan’s transformation from a criminal defense attorney to a compassionate, emotionally vulnerable caregiver. Drawing on contemporaneously written emails and private journal entries, Ament unflinchingly exposes his emotional, mental, and physical ups and downs, consistently focusing on the love, humor, and opportunities for personal and spiritual growth he experiences on this journey. Anyone with the possibility of becoming a caregiver for a loved one, now or in the future, will benefit from the insights Ament shares. Everyone will be buoyed by the love Allan and Deloris experience as they face their new normal.
After successful careers as a criminal defense attorney, higher education administrator and instructor, and day spa manager, Allan Ament now enjoys retirement with his wife, an award-winning journalist and author, and their semi-neurotic cat (are there other kinds?) They live on an island in Puget Sound, north of Seattle, where, in addition to writing and being his wife’s primary caregiver, Ament serves as board chair for the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts (nila.edu). His work has previously appeared in academic, professional, and literary journals, and is included in an upcoming anthology, Being: What Makes a Man. Learning to Float is his first book-length work.
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