Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: Our apartment was flooded out in storms over the weekend, and my husband and I lost most of our stuff (insurance will not cover it). In the days since, we have been overwhelmed with support – dozens of people here helping us sort stuff out, bringing food, offering us places to stay, and on and on. We’ve also been given thousands of dollars in cash.
I am tremendously grateful but really overwhelmed. If I’m honest, it hurts my pride and makes me feel guilty to accept so much help. How in the world are we ever going to thank people? How do I get over these feelings and just be appreciative that we are so supported, when I know many others are not?
Flooded … With Help
What wonderful friends you have. I know you have mixed feelings about it all, so use my detachment as a way to see the simple beauty you have before you in their embrace.
You can also use the simple suckiness of life, in its apartment floods and other disasters, as inspiration for your next step in finding a way to feel good about all this:
Your friends will need you, too, someday. Maybe not in the same way, maybe not in cash and shelter, but they’ll need you – to listen without judging, to invite them over when they’re lonely, to show up for their events, to register in whatever way matters to them that they matter to you. Be on the lookout for these opportunities to give back, and do whatever is in your power not to miss many of them.
On a more practical note, there are two things you can do now, or soon, to make yourself feel better:
1) Record all the gifts somewhere. Cash in particular can be repaid directly, when you’re ready and if they’ll accept it.
2) When your home is back in working order, invite your helpers over for a thank-you party. Casual, informal, dirt cheap – it can be all of these and still say everything you want to say.
Accepting kindness can itself be a kindness; think “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Re: Flood: When you are settled, send each person a thank you note – tell them what you did here, it’s beautiful. Also, assure them you’ll be there for them in any way they might need in the future and not to hesitate. Assure them you will pay it forward.
When I was 12, our house burned to the ground and I understand your wonder at the goodness in your friends. You are a good friend too, I’ve no doubt, and you will have opportunities to pay back.
Lovely, thank you.
And one more thought that’s lovely only in an actuarial kind of way:
Flood insurance is separate from regular renters or homeowners insurance, and you need to buy it from the government through an agent.
This is not to blame Flooded or other victims; I was a homeowner for over a decade before I knew this myself.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.