The Character Movement

Peggy Bell with family smiling to camera on cliffside on vacation

Help: The Art of Just Showing Up

By Peggy Bell, Youth Frontiers School Relations Assistant

About a month ago I traveled to Tucson, Ariz., to gather with family and friends for my father’s funeral service. The pastor said something that has stayed with me, and I want to share it with you. As the pastor welcomed the guests and thanked them for coming, he said, “Ninety percent of life is just showing up.” I think he wanted the guests to know that by just being there, they had already done much for my family. Sometimes, it is the simplest things that make the biggest difference when people are going through difficult times. And often the people who benefit from these simple gestures don’t know how to ask for help or maybe don’t even realize what they need.

About 10 years ago, I was going through a difficult time, a health crisis that was life-threatening. The liver disease that I had lived with for almost 18 years had progressed to the final stages. Only a liver transplant could save my life.

My older sister, Mary, was to be my organ donor. Sixty percent of her liver would replace my diseased one. The problem was in the timing. In the summer of 2007, I became very ill and was in and out of the hospital several times. I became much sicker, much faster than we had anticipated. The complications of my liver failure almost ended my life before I could receive the transplant that I so desperately needed. This is the difficulty with organ transplants; you must be sick enough to be on the organ transplant waiting list, but strong enough to survive a 12-hour major surgery.

During the first few weeks of that summer, when I clearly needed help, I was not able to ask for it. I found it difficult to let people know that I was dying from liver failure. I feared that others would assume that I was either a drug addict or an alcoholic – neither of which would be good for my best-mother-in-the-world persona. However, even more than my slightly irrational fear, my inability to identify what I needed amid this major life crisis kept me from seeking additional support.

But I was lucky. My husband and many other family members and friends showed up to support me anyway. And with so many people willing and able to help, I found it became easier to accept assistance over time. The key for me was to think about the things that I knew I wanted to do but was unable to. Then, to think about which of my friends and family would have the interest and the talent to do those things well. For example, I knew that I needed to set up a CaringBridge page, but I was overwhelmed by the thought of it. So, I asked my techie friend to do it for me. She was happy to help and did an amazing job in a fraction of the time it would have taken me to navigate.

While I became good at asking for what I needed, it occurred to me that our kids — Allison who was 18 years old, Emily 16 and Benjamin 14 — were going through a very stressful time as well. I began to wonder what they needed and if they would reach out for help.

I knew in my heart that my kids must have a lot of questions about my condition and the upcoming surgery. Yet, they had not asked me about any of it. The most difficult part of this revelation was that I, their mother, was not able to help them through this and further, that I was causing the stress. As a parent, this troubled me, but eventually I thought of a solution — one that also required the help of others. I arranged for my kids to spend time with members of the transplant team on their own. This would allow them to ask questions freely to people who would have answers for them.

As a parent, I want the best for my kids. But, I know that my kids will not always tell me when they need help. Sometimes, I can talk with them and slowly draw out what’s bothering them. Other times, I guess and do my best to provide the resources and support that I think may help. And most of the time, it is the simple things — a hug, a favorite meal or a treat like a trip to the bookstore or library, watching a favorite movie or an extra hour of sleep — that they need the most.

Most people find it difficult to ask for help. Many times, they are simply overwhelmed and don’t really know what they need. My advice? If you want to help someone who doesn’t know how you can help, just be creative — drop off a magazine to distract them, bring some soup or another meal that can be eaten or frozen, set up a time to visit weekly, or if you have a special talent, look for a way to put it to use. But most importantly, as the pastor said, just start by showing up.

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