March 24

Rethinking “Help”

My friend’s husband has Parkinson’s. He was recently suffered a serious injury at his workplace that involves litigation. Her two kids are on the Autism spectrum. One has developed an eating disorder. Sometimes it’s hard to help friends going through a rough patch. I think we think that “help” involves something tangible.

When I was talking recently to this friend she asked for the name of our beloved contractor. I asked her what work she was considering on her 1908 bungalow. Having renovated three old homes and been a project manager for renovations and new construction at a large university at one point (including making classroom buildings handicapped accessible), I’m always interested in home renovations. She told me that she wanted to make the house more accessible for her husband as his illness progresses. I offered to drop by to give her some ideas. Her face lit up and she said, “Can you come tomorrow night?!”

I went over last night with a sketchbook to help her think through the pros and cons of enlarging a main-floor bathroom to make it wide enough for a wheelchair to turn around. I gave her some ideas about how to reconfigure her kitchen to make it accessible without losing its period charm. We talked about energy efficiency, access into the house from the garage, mudrooms, pantries and kitchen cabinets. I gave her some tips on how she could set up a temporary kitchen during construction and listened as she explained what was important to her. When I left she and her husband felt as though they had a plan to move forward. I just listened and made a few suggestions.

Sometimes being a good friend is just helping someone take that first step in a scary process. I can’t fix any of her problems. But I can sit with her. Listen to her. Share my resources and reassure her that she can do this. Sometimes each of us needs someone to ask us, “What do you really want?” and “How can you make that happen?”