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Give InKind is honored to feature Ruth Fowler.
I felt completely cared for after I gave birth. I loved the meals delivered to my door by friends who wanted to make sure I was nourished and rested. I loved the baby essentials arriving daily from my Amazon wish list, the handmade gifts from people who wanted to make sure my baby had something unique. I can’t express how grateful I was for the people who came and walked my dog after I’d lost so much blood from post-birth complications I didn’t have the energy to move. I was in awe at the friends and family who came to clean my home, take out my trash, and cook me meals when I was half dead from lack of sleep and lactating endlessly.
I did not have this kind of love, care, and attention when my husband left eight months later, and I was plunged into the hell of divorce – yet I probably needed it way more.
It’s true that stressful life events reveal who your good friends are, but they also reveal that many good, kind, compassionate people simply don’t know what to do when confronted with someone else’s world falling apart. Often they decide, instead, to do nothing. To hope, perhaps, that if they don’t acknowledge your pain, that it won’t ever happen to them.
The most basic thing people could do for me in the midst of my marriage breaking down, was to listen. My family – 6,000 miles away – listened to hours of phone calls, knowing that the only thing they could do was pick up the phone, call me back, be present when I needed to cry, and question the same things over and over again. Listening and accepting that you cannot solve someone’s problems is a gift, but it’s a gift not many people can do, because let’s face it – it’s stressful, it’s exhausting, and it’s emotional. We all have our own shit – and it’s overwhelming to have a friend or loved one be needy when you yourself can barely pay the rent or might be having health problems, boyfriend issues, stresses at work. There are other, more practical ways to help, ways which can show someone who feels like a pariah that you do care.
Every night after my husband left, I would clean. Cleaning the house was something I did meticulously, every evening, because I needed that routine to fill the silence and solitude of my home. I’d listen to podcasts while I mopped the floor every night. Did that mean I enjoyed it? Hell no. If someone had sent over a cleaner to deep clean my house and organize my closets, it would have been a tremendous relief, and freed me up just to watch Netflix or something, to find routine in something else.
Not that I watched Netflix because I couldn’t afford it. I had to say goodbye to the HBO Go, the
Amazon Sundance Docu subscription, and all my other methods of watching TV and movies, because I suddenly had thousands of dollars of attorney bills to pay, and my income as a freelance writer had already taken a hit by having a child in a country where there’s little to zero support and infrastructure to allow new parents to take parental leave.
My situation eventually got so dire that I had to start an indiegogo campaign to help me pay my attorney bills and keep writing – and that in itself was a horrible situation. I had to ask for money and help over and over again over the past two years. Taking on that small internet burden of crowdfunding could be a massive help for someone struggling – but check with them first. For some people it might cause unnecessary stress.
I cooked a lot that first year my husband left. I couldn’t be happy and I couldn’t pay my way, but I could still cook, and so I cooked for friends as a way to say thank you for inviting me over for meals, for loaning me money to pay bills, for Paypal-ing or Venmo-ing or gift-carding me 100 dollars out of the blue and telling me not to spend it on never-ending bills, but to buy my son a new toy, and me a new dress, or simply renew my Netflix subscription and drink a bottle of Prosecco and order delivery.
I’m not sure if this is true for everyone, but I felt the most kindness from people who were not closest to me, and perhaps this was because grief and anger in other people – or more specifically, me – are intolerable. Friends did not drift away from me, but often simply vanished overnight in grandiose, dramatic gestures, flouncing offstage after denouncing me. Be kind. Hell doesn’t heal in two weeks, or two months, or two years, and someone’s personal hell can make them act crazy, irrational, and annoying. Sometimes the kindest thing you can give to someone is simply endless patience and firm boundaries to protect yourself. And if that fails, send them a babysitter, a cleaner, a dog walker, and Instacart instead.
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