• Stephanie Hammond

Don't be afraid to give part of yourself away

There have been times in my life when my inner resources have been low - very low. I had so much on my plate that I doubted I could do one more thing, take on one more task, without totally collapsing, physically and mentally. I was afraid to give one more ounce of myself away to anything or anyone outside my little family.

But there were always that extra call on me - often self imposed I have to admit. One particular time I remember is a typical case in point.

I had four children at the time, aged ten, eight and nearly two year-olds plus an eight-month-old. Quite a handful, and requiring a lot of work to keep the household going. I just lived day by day, not able to think much past the next meal, or household task, or shopping trip. It required quite a lot of juggling to be sure everyone was happy and everything got done.

Then my father-in-law needed care. For some reason he was being shifted from nursing home to nursing home and he was unsettled and unhappy. I wasn’t happy at his treatment and, although I wasn’t particularly thrilled at the prospect, I suggested we bring him home with us.

We were so fortunate in our home at the time. The bedrooms were upstairs with all the utility rooms on the ground floor. There were no steps from outside to the house. And we had a spare room right next to the bathroom. Off this room was a workroom with access to the back yard.

Soon my father-in-law was settled in and happy. He loved the little ones and they loved him. He would sit for hours watching them play, and although he couldn’t get them out of mischief, they seemed to be aware of the adult presence and got into less mischief than normal. These young two were really close and what one did the other did.

He wasn’t an old man, in his late 40s or early 50s. But he’d had a stroke and was paralysed on one side. It took him ages to dress and bathe but he was determined. And he walked outside a lot to keep himself moving.

In his working life he’d been a shoemaker and he convinced us he could be productive in this way. So we set up the workroom for him. Here he made moccasins for us all.

Sometimes he could do small kitchen tasks like peeling potatoes and washing up (these were days before dishwashing machines).

Rather than be a physical burden, he proved to be more of a help than I could have imagined. The extra work for me was minimal, in fact in my memories now I don’t remember having to do much extra at all.

What I remember most about this too brief interlude was the great talks we had. He had such an interesting life and his stories enthralled me. He worked in a shoe factory that now was a spaghetti restaurant outfitted with all the old sewing machines and paraphernalia from the factory. It was interesting to hear what it was like as a factory.

Aside from his stories and his help with the little ones, his presence in our home gave me relief from my loneliness for adult company and conversation. He was observant and not afraid to speak out on what he saw. I hear him telling me:

“You work too hard, girl. The work will be here when you’re dead and buried.” Wise words that I never fully understood at the time.

Spending time with my father-in-law helped me realise that I didn’t have to be afraid of extending myself beyond what I felt comfortable. That there were hidden blessings waiting to be shared.

Years later I found this card which always takes me back to that time with him. I smile, and I’m grateful to know that I’m not afraid anymore.

“Don’t be afraid to give a part of yourself away. It will always grow back.”

In fact, because of him, I realise not only does that part I give grow back, it is renewed and keeps growing even more strongly. My time with my father-in-law made me stronger in times of fear and weakness, and helped me become able to take on more than I thought I can, with eager anticipation and joy.

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