In my 7th decade I’ve overcome some significant hurdles; I’ve become braver and more confident, but when it comes to asking for help, I freeze.

Two summers ago I developed pneumonia. My strength was sapped, but rather than call a friend to pick up my meds or do a grocery run, I pushed myself to the limit. It took all the energy I could muster to get my prescriptions filled and buy soup and juices before collapsing back into bed. What’s even more revealing is that I repeated this pattern several times until I was well!

Other women my age have confessed to a similar struggle. Do we feel unworthy? Are we afraid of rejection? Do we think we’ll appear weak? Have we internalized the old saw that ‘we shouldn’t be a burden to anyone?’ Has feminism forced us to be independent even when it’s bad for us?

A woman contemplating asking for help

This past week when I was laid up with a nasty virus and facing an empty fridge, once again I faced my perennial asking-for-help struggle. Only this time I did it! I told myself I wasn’t getting any younger and that as I age I will face more situations necessitating help. It was now or never!

I reached out to a friend to ask her to pick up some soup for me on her way home from work. I knew that a deli was a short half block from where she worked. I also banked on the fact that I’ve helped her out on numerous occasions. She was happy to help out.

Adelaide, 90. and Connie, 80, both live alone while helping one another on a regular basis

Let’s unpack what it means when we, as women, don’t ask for help when we’re sick, moving, need a ride, need a shoulder to cry on, or even a friend to accompany us to a film. Help takes many forms.

When we don’t ask for help we isolate ourselves, depriving ourselves of meaningful connections. If I examine the reverse of asking for assistance, which is giving to another, I realize how enriched I feel when I can be of assistance.

Reaching out for help and giving help builds community. The friend who brought me soup mentioned that she was glad that she had a chance to be of service. She even texted me the next day to ask if there was anything else I needed.

Communities are enriched when their helpful natures respond to a crisis: when a house burns down leaving a family homeless; when a teenager dies in a car crash; or on a larger scale when a group is the target of discrimination. People often show their best selves when they step up to offer shelter and provisions for the homeless family, condolences for an untimely loss, or a peaceful protest against injustice.

The women of a small Turkish mining community who came together to sell their crafts to help families of the disaster.

To make it easier for women who live alone, especially older women, to receive the help they need, I’m recommending that communities create a Helpline.

For example, in Portland, Maine, where I live, I can assemble a list from reputable sources like the senior college or church groups. Women can be invited to join, providing their contact information. This list will be kept confidential.

Who wants to help start a Portland, Maine Helpline for older women?

Initially women may be hesitant to reach out. To counter this tendency the list servers could send weekly emails inquiring if anyone needs a ride, a grocery pick-up, etc. Hopefully these reminders would take the edge off a woman’s reluctance to ask for help.

I welcome your responses as to how you’ve managed to counter the resistance to ask for help and your thoughts on my proposed Helpline.

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