To Serve and Be Served

by , | May 12, 2017
To serve or be served?

While I’m generally known as someone who generously serves others, I’ve been stingy lately, resisting taking time away from my parenting and daughtering duties or the time I could use to build our business.

Recently I had my first solo “Sit with Don” visit at his place.  Don, as Reena wrote about in a previous blog post, is suffering from a degenerative lung disease, is mostly house-bound and has 24-hour care from family and a large community of friends. The last time we had 1:1 time was when he was in the hospital in November. At that time, Don’s health was so precarious, he truly wondered if he’d leave the hospital alive. Thankfully, he did and he’s been living a different life since he returned home.

In anticipation of our three hours together, I imagined how we’d pass the time and how I’d help Don. For those of you familiar with the Enneagram, I’m a “Type 2” in this personality assessment system – “Helpers who need to be needed”. You get the picture. I would prepare the meal I’d brought, I’d wash up, tidy up and we’d catch up. Maybe I’d give him a manicure like I do with my own elder parents (I did). And I’d feel good about helping because that’s a big part of what makes me tick.

I expected it would be lovely—as always—to connect and I was curious about being together to explore this “deep meaning of just hanging out” which is how Don talks about these visits. Upon reflection, I see that I was prepared to do a lot for Don. I was focussed on being of service and not so much to be served or nourished by our time together. I was wrong.

Sometimes, being vulnerable with others is the best way to be of service.

Don helped me enormously and on multiple levels. I showed up at Don’s place with my leftover pasta sauce and an aching heart. The previous week saw me raging and crying but I had not yet allowed my pain to be fully witnessed by another. On the way to Don’s I sensed that my tears were close by and that I needed a good cry. At the same time, I felt conflicted like I needed to show up as the cheerful helper.  

Don’s medical fragility and his hyper awareness of his mortality have refined his already amazing ability to be present. One look in his eyes and a deep breath later and I found myself sobbing deeply with him. He held the space for me to feel what was there and let it flow. No advice, a few questions, mostly just acknowledgement and acceptance. I was received by Don.

In time, our conversation moved to how things are going with our business – our launch to the world was relatively recent. Because Don is also a master connector, he shared some key contacts and smart ideas about future possibilities.   

Three hours later, I made my way home feeling softer, energized and more confident in my capacity to say “yes” to all that comes my way. I told Reena that this visit with Don was a highlight of the year for me. Good thing I went to help.

What about you?

How has your life been enriched by someone who you were supposed to be helping?

What does being received mean to you?


  • Lorraine Robinson May 16, 2017 at 3:35 pm

    I find that some people who have knowledge of their forthcoming demise are in a rare and sacred mode of communication. Always there is something to be gained. It seems to me that once we accept our own death as inevitable it becomes less necessary to project our grief on those whom we serve as a friend or in other categories as ‘help’ or being present and witness to this leg of their life journey as we know it.

    • Dear Lorraine, thank you for your comments and my apologies for the belated posting and reply. Related to your comment, let me share that in a workshop this year I identified a clear hope of mine in relation to my death and dying. I know I’ll have to be with whatever comes my way but I have a hope that my death results from a terminal illness and not a sudden death – for the very reasons you articulated. This was a new insight for me and one of the big bonuses of Reena and I participating alongside participants in our workshops.

  • How can I count the ways?!!! One person I worked with for 10 months (mostly bedside singing) was almost totally paralyzed. She could only move one arm very slightly, couldn’t speak and had no facial expressions — but she watched me with hawk-eyes. Because of her, I started to dance-mime the songs I sang to her; and she would follow every movement I made. I noticed that she would often look at the songbook I had — boring, just text. So I closed it to reveal the large colourful logo on the front. Despite the fact that she would only move one arm very slightly, she would trace the design over and over again. These are the ways that she engaged with me, and let me know that she chose for me to be with her. I was honoured to be there, to sing her into her death.

    • What a gorgeous story Pashta. Oh that we might all have the experience of being so connected to another human, regardless of where they’re at in their living and dying. Thank you!

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