Baby-boomers-as-caretakers is a well-published phenomenon. We care for elderly parents and adult children, grandchildren, extended family, needy friends, and so on. Some people are helpers by nature. Others become helpers by choice, others by necessity.
A Supreme Helper
I fall into the two latter categories of helper. However, my husband, Paul, comes to helping naturally. He’s always helped family, close friends, students, animals, and pets. I saw him selflessly care for his mother in her final months. No one could have cared more deeply for his two Labrador retrievers, Pike and Musky. He believed his purpose was to help them have the best life possible. Now he applies that philosophy to our son and our granddaughters. I believe Paul thinks himself a failure when he can’t fix someone else’s life. To the most humble life forms, he is the supreme helper. He carries in his truck a plastic snow-shovel with which to rescue snapping turtles from the highway. This spring he has relocated four turtles to the safety of ponds. Just visit our deck and see the chip monks, squirrels, and assorted birds linger regularly waiting for the half-dozen or more daily feedings.
Two years ago when we prepared to relocate, we needed help with the physical aspect of the move. We called upon nieces, nephews, and young friends to hoist heavy furniture onto the truck and trailer. Arrival at the new home required help from our son. When the young friends visited we called them into service to lift, clean, and stain. All the while, we had some difficulty accepting the fact that we had lost self-reliance. As helpers, we have downgraded to assisting, driving, paying, and supporting.
Over the past several weeks, we have encountered a series of minor breakdowns. The first little sign that repairs would be needed to our home occurred last fall when water dripped into our living space from two locations. Next, a bowing patio door and rotted boards on the deck revealed themselves. Before long the dishwasher stopped; followed by the dryer and the automatic garage doors. In the midst of those hiccups, we discovered our much anticipated Lund boat had been delivered with the wrong trailer. At the same time we haggled with a marina owner who pronounced he had no idea how to obtain the Yamaha motor we had hoped would power the boat. Clearly, we needed helpers.
Another Stage Theory
I see now that everything involves stages. By age 65 who has not experienced the stages of grief, the stages of disease, or the stages of recovery? Life itself comes in stages. I observed first-hand the stages we must navigate in order to accept help.
Stage One: Denial. “The boards are not that bad.” “The door can go another year.” “The circuit to the dishwasher must have blown.” “The screeching in the dryer is normal.”
Stage Two: Admission. “The garage door will not open.” “We need a bucket to catch the water.” “A mouse made a nest in the wires.” “We have a boat and no motor.”
Stage Three: Ask a Professional. Reliable helpers have been Ed, Dickie, Dave, Tim, and Dennis. Beaver and Bob came through at first, but still have our trailer hostage. Jason was fully informed as to dryers, but Garlock’s delivered the goods.
Stage Four: Estimate Charade. The professional assesses the problem and writes up an outrageous estimate of parts, labor, and tax to complete the repair.
Stage Five: Repair or Replace. (Thank goodness this stage applies to things and not people.) We repaired the roof and the deck. We replaced the dishwasher and the dryer. We will soon replace the bowed door. We repaired the garage doors and may replace them before winter. We are still waiting for the replacement trailer. The Yamaha motor should be installed the first week of June.
Self-reliance, a valued American trait, naturally decreases with age. Consequently, feelings of inadequacy increase. We would do well to learn from early childhood social studies. A lesson in Community Helpers is a common theme for early learners. Our youngest citizens gain understanding of the various helper roles in their community. These might include firefighter, law enforcement officer, crossing guard, bus driver, teacher, physician, and so on. Children learn that in a community, we depend on others for help. Likewise, others might rely on us and the talents we offer. As seniors, we have a wealth of life experiences to share. Why not trade our wisdom for practical, hands-on assistance?
John Lennon’s lyrics articulate the scenario perfectly:
“When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody’s help in any way.
But now these days are gone and I’m not so self-assured,
Now I find I’ve changed my mind, I’ve opened up the doors.
And now my life has changed in oh so many ways,
My independence seems to vanish in the haze.
But ev’ry now and then I feel so insecure,
I know that I just need you like I’ve never done before.”