Not long after my brother married for the first time, his wife said some things about our parents I found hurtful. I called my Dad sobbing uncontrollably (I was 22 at the time – oh the drama!). Once my Dad made sure I was physically ok, he explained with great insight “you pick your friends not your family, so get over it.” He went on to explain the importance of surrounding myself with people who will love, support, challenge, push, nurture and strengthen me. We get to pick who those people are – our family was picked for us.

My Dad explained that, more importantly, I must want to do the same for others. We find these people, who we lean in to help and who help us, through the different communities we are part of where we have the common bond of the primary focus of the community. I have come to call members of these communities ‘framily’ – friends who are like family. I sure wish I had invented that title, it is so perfect!

We find these people, who we lean in to help and who help us, through the different communities we are part of where we have the common bond of the primary focus of the community. 

We have seasons when we are able to give and seasons when we need to receive. I am wired to be on the giving side so it was a very difficult, but valuable, lesson for me to learn about the value of being on the receiving side. When my Mom passed away, a treasured friend offered to come be with me and help. I, of course, said no. She was very busy, lived in another state, and would have to leave family and work; I would be fine and I did not want to inconvenience her. On the day of mom’s funeral, as I greeted family and friends coming to the service, I did not see her. I was giving the eulogy for my Mom. As I stood in the church pulpit and looked out at everyone, there, right in the middle of the church, was my friend. I promise you to this day, nothing has touched me more deeply than her act of friendship and support. She asked nothing of me; she cared and wanted to be there for me. I got it. Please, when someone offers to help, say yes. Not everyone has the capacity to do everything you may need, but if someone wants to help, find something they can do.

Please, when someone offers to help, say yes. Not everyone has the capacity to do everything you may need, but if someone wants to help, find something they can do.

I have learned we each have different capacities to give and different types of value we can bring. It’s worth figuring out how someone who wants to help, can help. I have also learned it may surprise them. When a friend of mine learned a friend of hers had become quite ill and was in the hospital, she decided to go sit with her friend in the hospital. My friend learned hospitals made her very uncomfortable and she couldn’t stay there with her friend. Before that, she had no idea. She became an errand runner instead.

During our current journey of love with dementia, we are in a season where we benefit from others leaning in to help. I am truly grateful for any help I receive. Those who have capacity to help, offer to help. Those who don’t have capacity to help, don’t offer. I am so glad I have learned what a blessing it is for us to be able to graciously accept, without judgement, those who have learned they don’t have capacity to help right now. We can maintain our relationships and allow them to strengthen instead of creating a chasm that serves no one.

Those who have capacity to help, offer to help. Those who don’t have capacity to help, don’t offer. 

Many of the volunteers I meet are people who traveled this journey before me, benefited from receiving help when they needed it, and were in seasons where they didn’t have capacity to give. Now that they do have capacity, they are giving back. I know I will one day be in a position to do more to lean in and help others, to gladly “pay it forward”. For now, I find opportunities that fit my capacity and know how much even the smallest help matters.