I can’t remember the circumstances but I remember my great friend in Ohio telling me “The gift is in the giving.” I reflect on this whatever I receive, whether a present or a delicious salad. I appreciate the care and effort involved in getting the gift to me, as I consider the giving – I enjoy everything I receive.
When Emily was in hospital soon after her spinal cord injury (SCI) I was asked to coffee by a friend. I nearly cancelled due to lack of time, anxiety and overwhelming stress in that acute phase of our traumatic journey. Luckily I didn’t rescind on the arrangement and I duly arrived panting with thirst as I had had no time for refreshment and it was 3 pm; time for tea! My friend put the kettle on and introduced me to her friend “Hello”. I couldn’t possibly have known how impactual this meeting was to be, my friend’s friend quickly established herself as an obvious mentor. She had experienced SCI in her family and whatever I mentioned she understood from her heart.
I told, what I thought was, my unique story yet time and time again my new mentor nodded “yes, we experienced this too, yes, we thought that too” I didn’t need to explain my fears as they were already understood. During this meeting we were discussing coping methods and strategies. I remarked that everyone wanted to help but while Emily’s care was provided in hospital I didn’t envisage anything that needed supplementation. My mentor leaned into me and looked me in the eye ” You need all the help you can get, say yes to everything” I was aghast and asked “Won’t I exhaust my friendships?” My mentor looked directly at me again ” You’re in crisis, you need your friends now.”
I recall this meeting because I felt embarrassed to accept help, I felt I would drain my friendship group as they tired of me and any exacting requests. BUT I took my mentors advise and let another friend organize a food roster, each weekday a meal was popped into an esky by the front door. It was either eaten that evening as I returned from an exhausting day at hospital / rehabilitation or I took it to Emily the next day as a superior meal to the hospital menu. After 10 months in rehab these friendship food gifts saved us, they fed us but not just nutritionally, they fed our optimism, they fed our hope and resilience and made long days bearable. These gifts constituted true comfort food, made and delivered with love.
Finally Emily was discharged home and without the travel to and from rehab, without the chair clinic appointments, home assessments, renovations and equipment evaluation sessions I could actually get to Woolworth’s. I actually managed to cook. The food deliveries slowed to Monday, Wednesday and Friday until I got myself into a routine. Slowly our lives returned to normal, a new normal. Food choice, preparation and dishing up dinner on time is natural within a family so it was a happy moment when we realised we were self-sufficient again in regard to family meals. Our return to normalcy was delightfully therapeutic on one level and devastating on another, therapeutic as we were home, devastating as life had changed so dramatically. I tried to thank my friends but “thank you ” never seemed enough because it was more than a meal, it was tangible support, tangible food parcels of care.
Since Emily’s accident we have received many delicious meals and care gifts so when a friend recently needed assistants to help with a difficult, time-consuming chore I happily volunteered. It may be viewed that I have enough to do but I think helping my friend was a priority. I can’t always be relied on as I do have a structured schedule with little flexibility as a carer but if I can aid others then I will. Having received help – I now understand and fully appreciate the gift of people’s time and energy. Life is a circle and I respect what others did for me when I was in need so as soon as I am aware of an opportunity to give back, I endeavor to commit to assist.
I could never encapsulate the gratitude I would like to extend to my friendship group regarding the care displayed to our family. I would encourage anyone in crisis to accept aid, without reticence or embarrassment. I am writing this not because I hope my front door esky fills with salads but because I was so happy to help my friend that I truly, truly understand that the gift is in the giving.
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