HELP LINE: To get help, tell your story

I REALLY HAVE a very cool job.

The other day I found myself in the midst of a very sharp group of folks, most of whom are, were or will soon be “caregivers.” (Obligatory definition: A “caregiver” is somebody who is taking care of somebody who needs to be taken care of, whether they like it or not.)

Ostensibly, the idea was to provide these very sharp folks with an opportunity to ask questions and, presumably, get some answers. Good idea, right?

Mostly, except that I was struck (again) by what a fluid and subjective thing “help” is. Time out.

The main idea of this little column, and a lot of other things I do, is to provide “help.”

OK, I admit I sometimes veer off into other uncharted domains, but “help” is the underlying rationale.

First of all, “help” only helps if it helps. Otherwise, it’s just an exchange; for instance:

Q: “What’s the mathematical expression for Einstein’s Theory of Relativity?”

A: E=MC2

Did that “help”?

Well, if all you were trying to do was complete a bizarre crossword puzzle, probably. If you were wanting to actually do something about it, probably not.

So, if someone has a pretty specific question about something in my world (which is not the Theory of Relativity), then a pretty short-and-sweet answer is probably fine, e.g.:

Q: “What does ‘DPOA’ stand for?”

A: “Durable Power of Attorney.”

Then, we’re all happy.

Unless, you want to actually understand what a DPOA does and why you might care.

If that were the case, I’m not sure you’re much better off than you were.

Let’s stop here.

If you do have a fairly specific question such as the one above regarding DPOA, try going to one of my favorite treasure troves of free information: https://www.wash, where you’ll find all kinds of great information about long-term care services (and supports; just hit the “60+” icon), etc., and you won’t have to sign up or provide a credit card or anything.

This site is maintained by the Northwest Justice Project, so it’s accurate and current. And, by the way, you’ll find a lot of other terrific information if you’re willing to noodle around a bit, so take your time.

That’s good, as far as it goes, but think about it: Aging and “long-term care” and surviving bureaucracy in America, etc. ad infinitum, is rarely that simple.

What most of us need most of the time is a conversation where one question leads to the next one which leads to the next one, which (hopefully) eventually leads to … Oh. I get it now.

That’s good, as far as it goes, but think about it: Most of our lives are pretty darned complicated.

And when the topic is something like trying to help Mom, who might or might not want or accept that help, and Mom isn’t exactly rolling in money and … well, things can get mighty complex, mighty quick.

Q: “What question would I even start with?”

Good question.

A: I don’t know.

I don’t know what question you should start with because I don’t think you should start with a question.

I think you need to tell the story. And, believe me, there’s a story.

True, someone like me probably doesn’t need all of the history, nuance and family foible-related minutiae, but I do need to hear the story. And you need to tell it.

You need to say it out loud, so you’re hearing it, too, and it’s not just roiling around in your brain (and, maybe, your heart) in disconnected bits and bites of stuff.

You need to tell the story.

So, what’s the point of all this? (Good question.)

You can call any of the numbers at the end of this column and a decent human being will listen to your story.

You don’t have to have a succinct, beautifully wordsmithed and scripted question all ready.

All you need to know is the story. And you do know the story.

Then together you can decide where to go from there and what might actually constitute help for you — and yours — in your story.

In other words, you can just be a human being, who is talking to another human being, trying to figure it out.

And that conversation won’t cost you a cent.

Sometimes, though, a regular old question is fine. For instance I can hear the question that is going through your mind right now, so …

A: I know. I can’t help it.


Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing

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