Frieda was in her 50s when she enrolled in our outpatient hospice service with terminal breast cancer. She worked as a bookkeeper until she became disabled. Frieda was gentle, tenderhearted and soft-spoken. I stopped by her house one day and her hospital bed was peppered with handwritten letters. She told me, “I’m using the time I have remaining to write letters to my family and friends, to tell them how much I love and appreciate them, what I see in them and what I hope for them.”
Frieda seemed to be at peace but her husband Frank was in turmoil, stressed and distressed. He was stretched tight and thin between caring for his wife, absorbing her roles in the home and managing a local business. They, like many people, were only one or two paychecks away from financial bankruptcy. Therefore, Frank couldn’t afford to take a leave from work, especially with the loss of Frieda’s income. I asked Frank, “What do you wish your family and friends knew about what you’re going through right now?” Frank let it all out. “If I hear one more person say ‘call me if you need me’, I’m going to scream. You don’t know who really means it and who doesn’t. Then, when you do call someone, they’re busy. Don’t they know how hard it is to ask? Nobody ever says, ‘Frank, I’ll be over Saturday morning to sit with Frieda so you can take care of business’ or ‘Frank, I’ll be over Saturday to cut the grass or change the oil in your car.’”
As Frank ventilated my guilty conscience wandered and my life passed before my eyes. I wondered how many times I’d said, “Call me if you need me.” Secretly I promised myself to never say it again, but “old habits die hard” don’t they? The very next day Suanne, a friend, called and asked if I would pick up some Chinese and bring it to her. She was in her 60s and was caring for her 33-year-old daughter, who had bilateral above the knee amputations. I delivered the food, talked for a while, and as I was leaving, I said (you guessed it), “Call me if you need me.” I couldn’t believe I said it! I didn’t even make it 24 hours!
As I was walking off the porch, I decided, “Not this time.” So I turned back around, knocked on the door, and this time when Suanne answered I said, “I was just thinking; I have about four hours free on Saturday morning and if you need help doing anything I could come over for a while.” She appeared stunned and replied, “There are some boxes that need carried upstairs that I can’t lift. I also need some things carried out to the garage. Do you think you could put up some shelves in a closet for me too?” A friend and I showed up that Saturday and left blessed.
It’s been several years since Frieda departed this world, but Frank’s words still echo in my mind. Sure, there have been times I’ve said, “Call me if you need me,” but I try to make sure the person knows I really mean it. But wouldn’t it be more compassionate and considerate to just take away the burden of asking.
Galatians 6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ”