A Season of Support: When Gratitude is Difficult
About a year ago, my son nearly drowned and had to spend about three weeks in the Pediatric ICU. During this time, the number of people who wanted to help was incredible. It seemed like more people than my husband and I had ever met! From close friends and family to complete strangers, countless people wanted to support us in any way they could. They organized meals and church services; they donated money; they came to the hospital and talked with us; they planned our lessons at work; they brought toys and gifts; they even kept our other two children while we were occupied.
While closely monitoring my son’s ever-changing circumstances was taxing enough, what became almost equally difficult was having to accept everyone’s generosity, especially because I’ve always prided myself on my independence and capability. I was the one in group assignments who would take on everyone else’s tasks – I would rather overwork myself than suffer through the anxiety of relying on others.
Yet here I was, faced with a situation that was well beyond my control or abilities. I had no choice: where I tried to muster a “No, thanks! We’ve got it covered!” I found myself instead forcing a “Yes and thank you. We sincerely appreciate the help.” At first, admittedly, it was as much for the benefit of those giving as it was for me. I could tell it made them feel useful and helpful knowing that they satisfied some need, no matter how small or large, and I wanted to grant that satisfaction. As our hospitalization progressed, though, I knew this would become the norm. I was exhausted already, and it would be even more exhausting to continue fighting the overwhelming generosity, so I made peace with starting a Season of Support.
I reminded myself that this season, like any, was bound to end – it simply could not last forever – and that people were merely doing what I couldn’t do right now, not what I was permanently incapable of. And I swore that when this season did come to an end, I would try to find some way to give back, even if it weren’t equal to what we received, even if it weren’t to all the people who gave (which would prove impossible). And I’ve remained committed to that promise and to other people, especially during the flood crisis.
Like everyone else, I’ve tried to lend what I know in the long-run is minuscule assistance. And I know that whomever I managed to help surely thought that these efforts must be repaid and felt as awkward as I once did having to accept generosity when it felt like such a blow to your dignity.
While it may be difficult to see beyond what you might feel obligated to repay, know that any gift or act represents people who genuinely care about you. I know that you’ve heard a million times that those of us who may be in our Giving Season don’t expect anything back, nor do we want it, nor would we accept it. But I also know that this won’t stop you from trying because it didn’t stop me.
So as someone who felt the same tension, awkwardness, and humiliation at having to receive what I couldn’t repay, let me say that for your own sake, it’s ok to enter a Season of Support. In fact, right now it’s necessary. Maybe you’re not the type to volunteer your needs to others, which I completely understand. But when people ask what they can do, as difficult as it may be, see if you can offer an answer. And let me reassure you that like mine was, this is only a season, one that is certain to end.