I'm not big on asking for favors. Though we all need help from time to time, for better or for worse, I keep a running tally in my head of whom I "owe." I always feel indebted to the friend who picks up the tab for lunch or drives me to the airport, and truthfully, I hate that feeling.
But when my dad got sick, suddenly I was asking for help all the time. I was moving indefinitely from L.A. to Chicago, so I needed my friends to not only drive me to the airport, but also watch my car and get my mail. I was also supposed to be a bridesmaid in a dear friend's west coast wedding. Given my dad's health, though, I had to pull out with little more than a month until her nuptials.
Once back home, the favors didn't end. My dad didn't have an Internet connection, so I couldn't immediately work there. Instead, I crashed at the WiFi-friendly homes of several friends until I could get online at my dad's place. Yet even after I moved in, more favors were to be had. Though not in the wedding party, I was forced to cancel on yet another friend's nuptials. Since I was running up a hefty rental car bill, I also had to ask a friend to drive out (from the city) to follow me (from the suburbs) to the airport (back in the city) so that I could return the car and get a ride home (back in the suburbs). All in, she drove about 100 miles that day to help me.
The constant favors and constant apologies—"I'm so sorry for the inconvenience" and "I'm so sorry if I ruined everything"—were beginning to wear me down. I might have been taking care of my dad, but it felt like everyone else was taking care of me. I didn't like it.
Yet with each favor or apology, I was met only with love. Both brides graciously received my news and asked what they could do to help. My friends gave me open invitations to be their houseguest for as long as I wanted. And the baked goods, long-distance care packages and hugs were constant reminders that I wasn't alone in my journey.
Of course, not everyone was a rock of support, but that's okay, too. Illness—chronic, progressive, terminal—is hard to handle. I can't fault someone for not knowing how to deal with it when I'm stumbling along to figure it out as well. I suppose, though, that those trial-by-fire experiences do demonstrate who is willing to walk through the fire with you.
For better or for worse, I finally threw away my tally sheet. I had asked too many favors to count. Certainly more than I could ever repay. Though I am still keenly aware of how much was done on my behalf, I know that my friends haven't thought twice about it.
When you're contending daily with so many tough emotions—sadness, fear, anxiety, frustration, exhaustion—cut from the list what you can. Guilt and embarrassment might quickly rise to the surface when you lean on loved ones, but that is what they're there for. The ones who love you, who want to help, who truly have your best interests at heart…You know who they are, and they're not keeping a tally, so neither should you.