30 Days of Thanks Day 12 – Sharon

As a woman, I believe one of the best gifts you can give yourself is a network of other strong women. This is particularly true if you are not in a committed romantic relationship. I’m not talking about friends who complain about romance or the lack of respectable partners (although that does have its time and place). I mean the kind of women who nurture your own femininity, who remind you that you are more than just someone’s wife, girlfriend or partner, who tell you that you are enough as you are when you are faced daily by the messages that you should be something other than who you are.

I met Sharon on a Friday night over ten years ago when my sister Sandy invited me to join the two of them for happy hour after work. I was drawn in by her warm smile and genuine laugh. At the time we met, all three of us were actively dating – or attempting to. We swapped stories of dating disasters over glasses of wine, and pledged to keep in touch.

Over the years, my admiration and appreciation for Sharon has grown as we have experienced life together. Sharon is honest and matter of fact whenever I discuss obstacles or problems. She is generous and thoughtful. Sharon was there to comfort Sandy and I when our sister and brother-in-law passed away. She was an example of strength and perseverance when facing her own health matters. And this year, when I was stuck in a hospital bed, Sharon was a regular visitor.

Sharon came several times to visit me in the hospital. Her presence was a welcome distraction from the pain and discomfort which seemed to be never-ending. Sharon brought me tissues when I complained about the flimsy hospital issued ones. She raided the unit refrigerator for cranberry juice when I was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection. But the act of kindness I appreciated most was Sharon’s willingness to help me eat.

If you have never been fed by someone as an adult, you may not understand how vulnerable you can feel to rely on another person for this assistance. Will the person helping you try to shovel large amounts of food in your mouth? Will they keep going if you are still hungry? Will they become annoyed if you need to take a rest? Will they try to force liquid down you throat when you still have food in your mouth, increasing the risk of you choking? Will they wipe up any spills or leave you with food scraps on your face?

Because of my injury, I was not able to get into a position where I could independently feed myself while in bed. I was content to just ignore food for the first few days, but eventually my appetite started coming back. My lack of arm strength meant I was unable to lift a fork or spoon to my mouth, even when I was hungry.

One day Sharon visited and found my lunch tray sitting on the table next to my bed. When I told her I had eaten all I could manage to do on my own, she rolled up her sleeves and picked up the fork. Smiling, she asked if she could help me eat a bit more. I was grateful she asked, rather than just jumping in  to help. With Sharon’s assistance, I ate the rest of the soup and chicken tenders and felt full for the first time in days.

Sharon was the perfect meal companion, a role she took on more than once during my hospital stay. She was attentive to my cues, never rushing me or forcing me to eat until I was ready. She would keep up conversation while I chewed, telling me stories of her sons or events taking place around the region. Whenever I showed signs of fatigue, Sharon would pause and wait for me to be ready without showing any impatience. She never left me with scraps of food on my face or sheets. Sharon brushed aside my thanks, telling me she was just happy to be useful.

Sharon is the type of friend who would not want or seek attention for doing something she feels is just the right thing to do. It is for that reason that I appreciate the kindness and patience she showed me while I was stuck in a hospital bed earlier this year. I was grumpy, grouchy and demanding, but she returned to my side to help alleviate some of the darkness and despair I was feeling.

Thank you Sharon, for your friendship. I treasure the laughs we have shared, and look forward to being able to join you for more fun times when I am once again independently able to get out and about. We have some catching up to do!

Two Caucasian women seated side by side. The women on the left is wearing glasses, a black shirt and a gold shawl. She has brown hair.  The woman on the right is wearing a black shirt, a necklace and silver watch. She has blond hair and is leaning on the right side of the brunette with her hand on the other woman's shoulder.
Sharon and I celebrating October birthdays a few years ago.

Redefining Disability Challenge – Question 11

Each Wednesday, I post my response to a question from the Redefining Disability Challenge. This is my response to the eleventh question in the Challenge. I am not looking ahead to future questions, so I may inadvertently address some topics which will come up later.

Here is this week’s question:

Free post day! Write about anything on your mind today. Any topic that the series does not cover, anything going on in your life related to disability, something you’re excited for, something you’re frustrated about.

As part of my paid employment, I frequently staff a table and provide outreach and education at a variety of community events, health fairs and senior expos. This is a busy time of year for me and I have been working at least two events each week since the end of March.

Friday afternoon a colleague loaded the back of my van with my outreach materials for the weekend. Sunday morning I drove to a local health and services fair for adults and seniors. By the time I got there, all the accessible parking spaces were taken. This often happens at these events and I am used to finding a creative parking space so I can safely deploy the ramp on the side of my van.

I parked at the end of the very last row. I exited my vehicle, popped the rear hatch and prepared to heft the outreach suitcase out of my van. That’s when I realized the suitcase was backwards.

I am only able to grab the suitcase if the handle of the case is facing me when I sit outside the door. I didn’t supervise the person who put the case in my van and never checked to make sure the case was positioned so I could get it out of my van.

This certainly wasn’t the first time I was alone and needed assistance. I have lived with disability all my life, and frequently find myself alone, physically unable to perform a task. When this happens, I usually do the following:

  1. Take a deep breath and sigh. I HATE it when this happens! Why does it always happen when I don’t have time for this?!
  2. Breathe again.
  3. Look around me for anything I can use creatively to help me get out of this situation. If something is out of reach, can I fish for it using a reacher, a stick or an umbrella? If something is too heavy, can I use something as a lever or a tool to help with the hefting? There is a reason my best friend and I call ourselves “female MacGuyvers.” I can get myself out of almost anything.
  4. Send a silent prayer out to the universe, something along the lines of, “I could really use an angel right about now!”

Without fail, as soon as I ask for help – it arrives! (Note to self….consider making #4 first on your list next time.)

Sunday morning, help arrived wearing a dark blue coat, glasses and a 10,000 watt smile. We locked eyes as she walked up the driveway towards the entrance of the community center. I called out a greeting and asked if she would be willing to help lift my suitcase out of my van. Paulette, I learned her name as she set the case on the ground, was eager to help and insisted on wheeling the suitcase up to the building. Once we were inside, she proceeded to assist as I set up my display materials, making sure the tablecloth was centered and the brochures were all facing forward.

Paulette returned  several times during the event to check on me. The first time she offered to get my coffee. At noon she offered to get me some fruit or cookies. Two hours later, she returned to make sure I didn’t need additional assistance packing the suitcase.

“Will you need me to help you load that in your car?”

I declined her offer. I had given away most of my goodies, so the case was much lighter than it had been in the morning. I zipped it up and set it on the ground, turning to thank her again for all of her help throughout the day.

“Do you need help getting that out to your car?”

I assured her I was all set, and thanked her again. I pulled up the handle, tilting the suitcase back on its wheels.

“Are you certain you won’t have any trouble?”

I stopped, giving her a wide smile and tilting my head. “Would it make you feel better if I said yes?”

She grinned back at me, a twinkle in her eye. “Yes, it would be a blessing. I know you can probably do it, but I’m honored that you would let me do this for you.”

I handed over the suitcase, reminding myself although I hate asking for help, allowing others to help me sometimes is the right course of action.