A very good friend of mine died yesterday. Although the news was stunning, it was not totally shocking. She had endured some significant health challenges for a number of years and, unfortunately, was of an age where battling those challenges would become increasingly difficult.
Once I had absorbed this terrible news it hit me that her death came on the same day as the birthday in heaven of my significant other’s mother. She died at age 95. The news of her death was equally stunning in retrospect because I was always convinced that she would outlive everyone, based on her indomitable spirit and excellent physical and mental health.
When you’re caregiving an elderly loved one, playing the longevity odds can be a dangerous and uncomfortable game. But it’s an easy thing to get sucked into doing. If you feel like you’ve put your life on hold to care give, you almost can’t help but do it. Ironically, my friend had fallen into this trap for many years. So many of her statements began with, “When my mother is gone….” I’m not sure how many, if any, dreams of hers were deferred. But I have to believe there were at least one or two.
Playing the longevity odds can be a necessity when you’re trying to manage practical matters, such as financial resources to support your elder’s care. But even spinning the game by focusing on practicality is really an exercise in futility.
Why? Because it is horribly uncomfortable to scrutinize someone and contemplate their ultimate demise the way you would determine the shelf life of a piece of fruit or the ship date for a fattened pig destined for market. And honestly, apart from that discomfort, it is useless because, whatever your personal beliefs, there is ultimately a higher power that will make the final call.
So what am I saying? Nobody knows. NOBODY knows. So when planning the extent to which you are willing to care for an elderly loved one, particularly a challenging elderly loved one, keep in mind that your tour of duty may last 1 year…or 10 years. It may be a smooth and rewarding journey or the proverbial “trip to hell.” You cannot control the journey. But you can control how you will travel on that journey. If you are already on that road, and you don’t like the direction you are heading in, take a pause, check your “road map,” and consider making some changes so that the journey – long or short – is a little easier.
To my dear friend and fellow creative: Thanks for the inspiration and the motivation. Safe travels.