How often do we ask others, “So how are you doing?” after we learn they’ve recently suffered the loss of a loved one, or been diagnosed with cancer, or have had painful shoulder surgery? We’re asking sincerely because we care. Some people would rather not speak about a troubling event or situation.  Others, given the opportunity, may want to share their woes.

Whenever I walk the halls of JSL to visit with the residents, or call a friend or family member, my question, “How are you doing?” sometimes gets the response, “I’m fine.” But the weak obligatory smile followed by “thanks for asking,” tells a different story. Some folks want to share and if you ask, you should listen. We make real connections and can offer consolation more honestly, deeply, and truly. But if you’re asking and aren’t prepared to listen, don’t ask. JSL Volunteers are the perfect people who ask questions of our residents when they see them weekly during shifts in the bistro or boutiques. Relationships with older adults are extremely satisfying.

Growing up, I received ‘character building’ direction from my dad to “grin and bear it,” or “take it like a man,” often said jokingly. I have a distinct memory from my time living in Chicago as a child. I was three years old, when I slipped on a throw rug while being chased by a neighbor. I couldn’t lift my arm above my head, so I was driven to Michael Reese Hospital where they separated me from my mother and placed me on a steel table for an x-ray. When the doctor told us that I had broken my collar bone, she said, “Oh, you’ll be okay.” That moment is always my point of reference during self-talk. “I’ll be okay…. I’ll be okay…. And to us all, I pray, “We’ll be okay.”

My parents, who met in the army during WWII, were known to bear their pain silently. People admired that and always described my mother as a strong woman.  It wasn’t until I was older that I learned that no one liked to hear me complain about aches and pains, paper cuts, or skinned knees. Squealy whining of any kind drove my father out of the room.  My mother would quietly say, “Oh, you’re fine” and then stick a band-aid on it, or soak my finger, and maybe add a little kiss on top of my head or whatever part needed it. After that I realized I was on my own with pain and had to manage my own fears.  Don’t we all just need a kiss on our hurt parts?

If we practice telling the truth rather than pretending that we’re all right when we’re not, we allow others to step up and respond with love and compassion. Caregiving is a verb between the giver and the receiver. Let your people know when you need them, when you’re feeling alone, or when you’re in pain.  It gives us the comfort of knowing that someone genuinely cares.

So, the next time you see a friend, or a co-worker, or a family member and you’re compelled to ask them how they’re doing, be patient and listen to their replies. Offer assistance or sympathy if you can. Even if they don’t need or want your help, it does them good to know you care.

Wishing all a safe and happy celebration of Lag B’omer and Memorial Day.

Shabbat Shalom.

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