By Shahaa Kakar
About ten days before my family and I were due to move to a new house, my mother in-law suddenly died.
I loved my mother in-law dearly and her death was so unexpected. She was supposed to have come from Pakistan to Canada to stay with us in a few months’ time. We had been so excited to show her our new country (we had recently moved from England) and do things with her. We’d been dreaming about what her visit would be like and now, just like that, she was gone forever. I was reeling and I could barely move. And I was so devastated for my husband to have lost his beloved mum so suddenly.
With my encouragement, my husband decided to fly home to Pakistan for her funeral and say his goodbyes. It was hard to not be with him during this time, and on top of all that, we were due to move house in ten days. I had already been feeling panicked about how behind we were on packing and getting ready for the move. And now, in a state of profound shock, I had to move house by myself, without my husband to help and with our 7 year-old child in tow.
I was in counselling school at the time and my dear classmates knew what was going on. They all kindly asked if they could help with my move and I as I heard their offers of support, I had no idea what to do! I felt frozen. I had never been that great at asking for (or saying yes to) help. Like many people, I had always felt like I had to prove that I could handle things by myself. When faced with the offer of help, numerous thoughts came alive in my mind – I need help. I don’t know how I can do this by myself. But how will I organize it all? My mind is a jumble and I can’t make a plan. What will I ask them to do? My friends will see my messy house and how little I have done and that is breaking cardinal family rules about having a clean house and being organized! I knew logically that none of my friends would judge me, but my inner critic still came alive telling me that I couldn’t possibly let them see how disorganized and behind I was! I felt shame, grief and fear. I had no plan and I felt totally out of control.
Having been in counselling school for a while, I had gotten much better at being aware of my thoughts and feelings, and deciding for myself what I was going to go with them. So I took a deep breath and made a decision. I thought to myself, “I have no idea what to do or how to organize this, so just say yes. Say that one word and don’t think beyond that. Say yes to every offer of help, because goddammit I need so much help right now.” So in my shocked, embarrassed, out of control state, I just said yes to everyone that asked me if they could help. It went a little something like this…
Friend: “Shall I come over on Wednesday night and help you pack?”
Me feeling embarrassed and not knowing what the heck to ask them to do on Wednesday night: “Yes please.”
Friend: “What can I do?”
Me suddenly feeling lost and confused: “I don’t know.”
Friend: “Do you want me to wrap your dishes in newspaper and put them in these boxes?”
Me feeling clueless: “Yes please.”
Friend: “Shall I vacuum up this mess and take out the garbage?”
Me feeling shame that someone else was cleaning my mess and taking out my garbage: “Yes please.”
I felt sheepish and lost and embarrassed that so many people were helping me. Allowing myself to receive love and support was hard! I was good at giving and this was new territory for me that brought up lots of feelings. I also felt ever so grateful to my dear friends for stepping up for me when I needed them. I didn’t know how to figure it all out, how to organize this help, but I knew that I needed it. So, I simply got out of the way and let them help. The hardest part was simply bearing my feelings without letting them (the feelings) run the show. I didn’t allow my shame make me say no to what I so clearly needed. This was a huge step for me!
I got through the move with the support of my friends and family, and honestly – it made me wonder why I thought I had to do it all alone in the first place. Sometimes caring for ourselves means admitting we can’t do it all alone. And sometimes it means bearing the difficult feelings and allowing the love in anyway. Just saying yes! To my dear friends who stepped up to help me in my time of need – thank you. This is what community care looks like.