Over the past six months, I’ve had the opportunity to interview a very special group of women. Women with cancer, women who are dying. I’ve been asking them a series of questions about their lives, their needs, their experiences. And the answers they’ve given often surprise me.
I had the special privilege of creating a program, together with a researcher from University of Haifa, Shaare Tzedek Hospital and Beit Natan, to identify the needs of ultra orthodox Jewish women with metastasized cancer. I’ve had many people ask me during this time, ‘isn’t it depressing? How do you ask these women these difficult questions?’
The truth is that I have found these interviews inspiring and deeply meaningful. These incredible women have let me in to their homes, their hearts, and their vulnerability, purely, to help others learn from their situation. The power of being in the moment with someone is a truly moving experience and I am grateful for this blessed opportunity.
It’s interesting how many similarities I’ve heard among the women, no matter how different they are from one another; there’s one theme that keeps coming up that I’ve heard not only now, but throughout the two decades that I have been involved in the health field;
“I can’t ask so and so to help, they’re too busy, too burdened themselves, not interested,…”
It reminds me of the years when I worked with pregnant teens in Philadelphia. They were always explaining to me why they couldn’t go to the social worker with their problem. They had convinced themselves that the social worker was too busy, didn’t care, was dealing with more important issues.
Here in Israel, when I asked these women I was interviewing if they ask their older children for help, many of them often tell me, ‘no, they have families of their own ‘ or ‘ I don’t want to burden them’ or ‘I’m the one who gives, not the one who gets, help.’
The ironic thing is, we all need help, it’s just that when we’re sick it’s harder to delude ourselves into thinking we’re 100% independent.
Why do we have so much trouble asking for help? Is it the vulnerability? The possible rejection? The acknowledgement that we, ourselves, are unable to manage it all alone?
I’ve spent a great part of my professional career in fundraising. Initially, this was slightly impeded by the fact that I come from a family where asking for money is just unseemingly, a little bit brash and not to be done too ostentatiously. It took me years to understand that I was not sitting with a donor begging them for money so I could have a job; I was connecting a person who wanted to give with a venture that was important and one that I believed in.
In fundraising, it’s called ‘the Ask’ when we buckle down and say to the person in front of us, ‘okay, this project is for you. We just need $50,000 to make it work. Can you help us?’
When you’re sick, you’re not begging the person in front of you to have pity on you; you’re asking ‘can you keep my family functioning? Can you go beyond yourself? Can you reduce my children’s suffering?’
Obviously, not everyone is up to the task, just as not everyone will give you $50,000. But you need to give people a chance; they just may surprise you.
It is not a weakness to ask for help. It is an enormous strength to both the asker and the giver. Don’t be afraid of ‘the Ask’.