I have been on my own since I left home just after my seventeenth birthday to attend the University of Wyoming. Throughout my four years at Wyoming, I never received a nickel of help from home so I worked 30-40 hours a week to get myself through school. During my senior year, I married my girlfriend and then she and I worked together to get through four years of graduate school. When I graduated from Michigan with a Ph.D., we didn't owe a penny of debt to anyone. I didn't plan my life this way. We just went from day to day to figure out what to do next to stay afloat, pay for our babies, pay for our groceries and rent. While we worked hard, we didn't think we were doing anything special but, rather, just depending on ourselves to keep going. We thought that was the way life was supposed to work.
As a result, my wife and I have always been independent and likely to tell others who offered us help that "thank you, we can do it ourselves, but we appreciate your offer." The older we get, however, the more often we actually need help now and then, and we have had to learn some lessons about how to give and receive help. Old people can sometimes be stubbornly independent, refusing help when they actually need help, refusing to give up the car keys when they can no longer drive, and continuing to keep struggling with things they can no longer effectively or safely do themselves.
Giving and receiving help, however, sometimes requires the wisdom of Solomon. When should we offer to help someone? When should we gratefully learn to receive help when we need it, or, occasionally, even when we may not actually need it? Well-meaning people can be too helpful, too eager to jump in and take over, and assume that older people, particularly, can't make decisions or do things for themselves. Of course, some are no longer capable of making effective decisions or doing things for themselves. But there is a fine line here. People still need to do whatever they can do to take care of themselves to maintain their own self esteem. And well-meaning people can end up simply enabling people to continue to depend on the helper when those they are trying to help should take care of themselves. And, if we are the helper, we can sometimes, regrettably, end up in an acrimonious situation when the stress of unfortunate situations gets too much to handle.
My wife and I have learned that, as the list of things we can no longer safely or effectively do grows longer, we can, however reluctantly at first, gratefully accept help from others for some chores and errands. But we still remain proudly independent in continuing to do everything we can do ourselves just as long as we are permitted to do so by the continuing transition into older age. We remain grateful for sensitive family members and neighbors and friends who have in the past and continue to assist us on some of the needs and chores that keep us going and to make our lives more pleasant and rewarding. But it took me awhile to swallow my pride and be willing to get help for things I have otherwise done all my life. Now I always remain grateful for the Good Samaritans and for the contributions their time and consideration make in our lives.