Getting Brimley kids ready for school in DC before becoming a widow
Family & Friends

“I’m at Trader Joe’s, What Do You Need?”

In the early days of Shawn’s illness, I was home trying to organize the kids for school the next day. Our families had not yet arrived, and I was trying to figure out how to get Austin to his early Spanish class the next morning. Desperate, I texted our friends Mark and Chris, who live behind us and have a son named Grant who often plays with my kids.

“If I’m remembering correctly, Grant has French on Tuesday mornings” I wrote. “If that’s the case, is there any way that Austin can go to school with Grant tomorrow? He has Spanish and I just can’t figure out how to get him there otherwise.”

Here’s what they wrote back:

“We can definitely take him tomorrow, and we will plan on taking him every Tuesday and Thursday until the end of the school year. It makes it easier on us because it motivates Grant to get ready early!”

It was an amazing response. First, they were going to get my kid to school the next day, so my immediate problem was solved. Then, they took a risk and told me they’d plan on doing it for the rest of the school year. Sure, I might have texted back that I didn’t want them to do that. But here’s the thing – I loved their offer, though I felt I could never ask for something like that. I’d feel too much like I was imposing on their time and energy. Grant has been to my house a million times, and just a few weeks beforehand our families had all enjoyed a fun pizza night in their backyard. But taking my kid to early morning Spanish for the rest of the school year? No way would I ask that.

They even went a step further. Maybe this was because they didn’t want me to feel guilty, or maybe it’s just the truth, but they told me that it would make their lives easier by taking Austin to school. It allowed me to accept their help and yet not feel like a bad mom who can’t even handle her own kids’ schedules.

That’s how I feel a lot these days. A mom who just can’t handle it.

The reason I feel this way is because it’s true. I can’t handle it alone. I need my dad’s help and the help of my friends. I need much more than I needed before and I usually can’t return the favor. It makes me uncomfortable, of course. But as my friend Beth so wisely pointed out, “you’d do it for any one of us if the roles were reversed. You know you would.”

When Shawn was first sick, I was picking up my kids from my friends Becky and Michelle. They had retrieved the kids from two different schools, fed them dinner and entertained them. One of their phones pinged and a text appeared from “Support Team.” I asked them what “Support Team” was and they said it was a text thread with a group of people that they could mobilize for any need I had. They didn’t ask me if they could help me by putting together a group like this, and I probably would have said I didn’t need it if they had.

But I needed it then and I still need it now.

I started using Becky and Michelle as my team captains – if I needed food at the hospital or Christmas presents wrapped or a child taken to guitar lessons, I just had to text them and it would magically be done. Sometimes I didn’t know who did what, and to this day about 90% of the help I’ve received from that text thread has been done without so much as a thank-you text from me.

One day, fairly recently, I was with Becky and Michelle and needed something done. For some reason, neither of them could do it and so they sent out a request to “Support Team.” Within seconds, their phones were pinging back with offers to help. Once they had found a solution for me, they started reading other texts that came in later. “Marjorie, those are the people who didn’t respond fast enough” Michelle said. “They are so upset that they can’t be the ones to help. They are probably cursing the people who got to it first!” she joked. And then seriously she reminded me, “everyone wants to help so badly.”

Yes, I now know that. It’s just amazing what my friends have done for me. It’s not just the school pickups and the laundry folding and the play dates. It’s also the texts that say, “I’m at Trader Joes, what do you need?” or “I booked you a haircut next Thursday because you said you were free, does that work?” or “tomorrow morning is open for me and I’ll be by at 9 to see what I can do.” It’s the offers of help that are specific and immediate, the ability to reach out to me, even when they don’t know what to say.

It’s also the emotional support I get from the texts that I’m flooded with each day. “I’m thinking about you right now, wanted you to know,” just showed up on my phone. I can’t always reply – sometimes I’m just too busy or it’s just too much.

But someone is thinking of me at that moment, and reaching out.

I know it seems like the right thing to say, “let me know if you need anything.” But for those of us in crisis, it’s impossible to know what to say to that offer. I usually don’t know what I need right then. But if you ping me and tell me I’m loved, or if you bring me an extra gallon of milk, or if you send me flowers on my birthday, or if you help me get my kids out the door in the morning – well, if you do that, then I feel a little bit lighter, and a little bit more like I can handle it.

This post was supposed to end there, but as I typed those last words, an amazing coincidence happened.  I was sitting outside of my daughter’s therapist appointment, wishing we could be at the park on such a beautiful day. At that moment, out of the blue, my friend Erin showed up in her minivan with iced tea for me and hot chocolate for my kids. She had all four of her young kids in the back of her car, and she came over and hugged me and gave me the drinks. “I knew you were in my neighborhood on Wednesday afternoons” she said, “and so I just drove around until I found you!”  As she told me that she was thinking about me, she also apologized for potentially intruding on my life.

She wasn’t being intrusive. She was showing me that she loves me. And it absolutely, positively made my day.

Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.