“If there’s anything you need, anything I can do, just ask” — empty words

How many times have you heard that? There you are up to your ears in stress, and someone tells you they are there if you need them.

When my father died years ago, a neighbor asked my mom if she needed anything? Of course, she was too burdened with grief to be able to think beyond the moment. I piped up and said, “Well, yes, my mom could use a little garden with a fence and maybe some spring onions.” The next day the guy came with his shovel. He seemed happy to be able to help.

Where I grew up in Southwestern Pennsylvania in a small town, when someone passed on, people would automatically bring over food knowing that grieving people need to eat but don’t have the energy to cook.

Back when I was in acupuncture school, a colleague’s best friend’s husband suddenly passed away. Because the school was in Miami and the friend was in Maine, leaving classes was a big imposition, but her friend told her, “I need you to be here with me.” My colleague also related how a neighbor began mowing the lawn and how friends helped with house cleaning and grocery shopping.

We two seniors recently moved from Maryland to North Carolina and decluttering a large house was a huge burden. “Let us know if we can help,” some neighbors said. What did they have in mind exactly? If we asked them to help us clear out the garage, would that be asking too much? We paid people to help us so as not to impose. And we ate our fair share of fast food because there was no time to cook. Had someone asked, “Can we run an errand for you? I think we would have said yes.

When we moved into our house in North Carolina, we were surprised that next-door neighbors hauled our trash cans up our steep driveway without our asking. The woman sensed we needed boxes to be hauled away. Both neighbors work out and are physically strong people. A week after we settled in, they invited us for wine on their patio where we could ask questions about living in the area which made us feel welcome and not so alone.

When people are grieving or stressed to the max, there’s always something we can do. What would WE need if we were in that position? A sandwich, toilet paper, a listening ear?