(c) 2010 Christiana Lambert

I like to help people, but deep down I’m a chicken. I prefer to help people from a distance, mostly by providing them with resources or getting some sort of task done for them that helps them with something in their everyday lives.

Truly, I like hiding behind my computer—behind words, numbers, etc.—not because I’m cold, but because I have a hard time forgetting others’ problems. I can imagine things well without having experienced them myself. Maybe that stems from the voracious reading I’ve done since I first learned to pick out words for myself. Or maybe that’s just how I came into this world since movies, songs, and visual pieces such as paintings and photos can reach me in the same way.

That’s why going to a support group can be a double-edged sword for me—sometimes I have to work not to feel overwhelmed. I love that I might be able to offer some information that might relieve someone else’s burdens, but often I find myself wanting to run away from the emotions that arise in such a group.

I suppose that’s one of the reasons why I haven’t run the Race for the Cure for several years. For anyone who has participated in the Race for the Cure, it’s not just the visual cues from the survivors’ pink hats or the heartfelt signs pinned to participants’ backs that make the event such a powerful emotional experience. I admit that cowardice has made me want to run away to avoid the race course’s tunnel—in such an enclosed space I know I am not able to escape from the emotions exuding from the crush of other women running so close to me. It’s as if fear, loss, anger, sadness, and whatever else are released from the sweat of those running and/or walking the course route—which is how it should be.

At this week’s Alzheimer support group I rather felt as if I were in that tunnel when the session started with a couple members in tears from deep loss—even as I looked to them with compassion in my eyes, I just wanted to bolt from that room and forget that anyone had to suffer through living with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s.

But at the end of the evening a couple people who come solely to provide support—who have lost their loved ones—validated what it is we can give one another. The truth is most of us didn’t ask to know anything about this disease and how it affects people, but had to learn from the School of Hard Knocks.

There are so many of us out there—wherever I go I meet people who are dealing with loved ones with dementia and I do reach out to them in those spontaneous encounters —whether I have anything new to offer them or not or whether I’m just a fellow traveler on a similar journey.

My urge to run tends to occur more often when I’m in formal situations where people come together to share their burdens. However, running from others’ emotions is all about taking care of myself but not at all about helping others. In the end, others need me to help them in person, as much as I am able. I’ll never be that extremely warm person who always reaches out to others but I’ve come a long way. When you’re face to face with someone in pain, it’s pretty much impossible to retreat and think it’s good enough to give them help from a distance.

I can’t take away the main reason for other people’s pain and they can’t take away mine, but for a few moments side-by-side we can share one another’s burdens—and feel some weight lift from our shoulders before we leave to go back and do the hard work of helping our own loved ones through the long goodbye.

I’m so glad that last night people reminded me—again—why it’s so important for me to stop doing the stupid chicken dance and just stick around and be there in person for someone else.