“Ah ha” moments don’t happen often to me, but when they do, the insight sticks. Years ago, I was having lunch with my good friend Jane who is a family counselor, and I was unburdening myself about how difficult it was to help my parents through a particularly challenging time in their lives as they aged.
I spoke about how exhausted I was, how nervous I was about helping them make critical life-decisions and how scared I was about perhaps giving them the wrong advice or suggestion. I mentioned how hard it was to manage their finances and that my husband, Oscar, was helping me keep track of their money on our computer. Where computers are concerned, he’s a geek and I am meek. So, I explained, I was endlessly grateful for the part he played in keeping my folks solvent. I needed help and he was there.
That’s when Jane looked into my eyes, leaned across the table, took my hands in hers and explained the concept of lifters and leaners.
“In life, everyone goes through hard times,” she said, as I nodded in agreement, “and we take turns being the lifter and the leaner.”
As she spoke, I thought back to some of the difficult moments Oscar and I had navigated together: when his father was ill and needed to move into a nursing home; when my parents both passed away within six weeks of one another; when one of our children needed life-advice and help when he was piloting his career through a job change; when each of us needed surgery; when either of us was upset by some major life block.
And as she held my hands, she spoke to my heart with words that have changed the path of my life many times since. When you care about someone, she explained, if they need help, you do whatever you can to help lift them out of the problem they’re facing, you try to encourage them – often just by being with them so they don’t feel overwhelmed or alone. You seek to give them strength and hope.
And by the same token, when you need help and hope and strength, when you need someone to lean on during difficult times, they’re there for you – steadfast, strong and dependable.
We often become lifters or leaners at unexpected moments. At times in life, what is needed to lift is a listening ear, a quiet touch, a steady, unfaltering presence. And it can come from strangers as well as family or friends.
As my mother lay unconscious in intensive care late at night and I sat next to her, terrified at what I feared might come, I felt a warm hand on my shoulder and turned to find Mom’s doctor standing behind me in the dark.
“Go home, Judy,” he advised. “I’ll take care of your mother tonight.”
I felt some of the weight I was carrying disappear when I knew he would be there with Mom. I was leaning. He was lifting. She would not be alone. And to this day, I’m still grateful to him for his understanding.
As I age, I find the concept of lifting and leaning enters my life more unexpectedly, as I begin to depend upon my children for help with certain chores and challenges. And they are there for me just as I have been for them. What has truly amazed me is that when one has an “ah-ha” moment and the light goes on, it never goes out.
Freelance writer Judy Kramer can be reached by email at [email protected] She is author of the book “Changing Places: A Journey with My Parents into Their Old Age.”