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December 8, 2015

On Needing and Feeding


My friend Melanie, who has just been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, wrote the most terrific blog post last week on how women are so reluctant to ask for help when they need it and how particularly strange that is seeing as how we tend to be very good at responding to others’ needs when required. How particularly strange too because the help is there; people want to give it. We’ve just got to open ourselves to receiving it, which can be tricky because it involves admitting our limits, crossing personal boundaries; letting other people into our personal spaces; and other possible transgressions. It involves needing, which has so many negative connotations in our society that so prizes self-sufficiency, independence, and so much reserve. A society that finds it simpler, tidier, to imagine that “social network” is a theoretical thing that lives online. And yet.

Inspired by Melanie’s post, and by the fact that we were two weeks into an illness that was not abating and running my husband ragged with caring for me, the children, our household and everything, I put the call out. “Is there anything I can do,” people asked, to which I responded, “Bring us food.” Already, we were pretty supported. My mom had been coming into the city every other day to take care of Harriet and Iris, and so that Stuart could actually, you know, go to work. And she’d been bringing food. But then on Wednesday, our friend Denise brought over turkey pot pie. Our friend Andrew brought over vegetable stew and rice that I ate for lunch the next day. Rebecca came on Friday with a batch of cookies. Athena dropped off a batch of broth. Our next-door neighbours delivered soup. My friend Lexi brought over more soup, and a loaf of challah bread. Erin came on Sunday to play with the children and give Stuart a break, and she brought so much soup. Our downstairs neighbours delivered latkes. My dad and his partner dropped in yesterday while I was sleeping, with more food and also the most delicious cookies. I got home last night to find a container of chickpeas on the step, from our friend and neighbour, Kripa. There are rumours my aunt is dropping off a casserole. And just now, my dear friend Julia let herself into my kitchen to drop off an actual chicken. So I know what we’re having for dinner tonight. All week, we’ve known what we’re having for dinner tonight. And I don’t know if I can convey what a difference that’s made for us.

The point is this: that people are terrifically good at taking care of each other. This very salient fact gets lost in a world that fills our news feeds with violence and despair. It especially gets lost too because we’re so reluctant to ask for that care, to admit that we need it. That human connections are not just theoretical, but actual, and we’d be very lost without them. That these families we build too are fragile things, and everybody needs a hand sometime to keep the machine in motion. That nobody is alone. That nobody should be.

Families facing what Melanie and her family are dealing with need this kind of help in the long term—before I got sick, it never occurred to me how much this was true, how debilitating it can be to have a parent who is ill. And how important it is that people like us to keep on bringing the soup so that mothers like Melanie can face the vital business of being well and loving her children ferociously. That we help too by giving money to support metastatic breast cancer research so Melanie ends up eating so much soup for such a long time that she eventually gets tired of it and asks for the menu to be changed.

One thought on “On Needing and Feeding”

  1. melanie says:

    Did you write this because I haven’t cried enough lately – because that isn’t actually true. However, what is true is that we really don’t ask for help. I remember think after I finished making all of my wedding invitations by hand (before Pintrest mind you so I didn’t go crazy but it was still a ton of work), “why didn’t I ask anyone for help?” And so I told my friends – the ones who were also getting married around the same time – about how I should have asked for help. I told them to ask me for help if they needed it, we could have card making parties that would be fun and get things done quickly instead of me sitting in a closet (literally, I had converted a closet into my craft space back when I was crafty) for weeks making cards by hand. And when those card parties actually happened it was kind of fun. And quick. I’m so glad I helped inspire you to ask for help. My husband was run ragged too by my illness before we knew what it was that was making me so sick and I just couldn’t watch it anymore. Really, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like to help people (women, at least – the men want to help but don’t always know how). We’ve had a Christmas tree delivered, neighbours came to put up lights, the girls have been invited over to peoples houses for playdates. It’s been heartwarming and amazing and just really sad because I hate that it has taken a crisis for all of this to happen. (And I hate that it is my crisis.)

    I hope you are on the road to recovery.

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