Over the years as I endeavor to navigate my own retirement journey I often think of what lies further down the road. At 57 I am learning to adapt to and sometimes reluctantly accept the fact that I am not physically the person I was 20 or 30 years ago. Little aches and pains, a bit less stamina when exercising or gardening, and the realization that those small print descriptions on product labels are really small – all insidious developments slinking their way into my everyday existence. But it’s okay. At this stage the pluses far outweigh the minuses.
But what about down the road? How will my life look when I am 67 or 77 or 87?
My folks are both 84, still living on their own in the house where I grew up since age seven. When I look at the life they live I am inspired by their independence and determination to stay in their home. I admire the love that has kept them happily together for 65 years and counting. They still make the occasional road trip up to the Mendocino coast or down to Fresno to visit my brother’s family. By all accounts they are doing very well. But as you would expect at their age they have challenges. Both move slowly and carefully, ever watchful of that dreaded fall that might incapacitate them. Dad has had to relegate much of the garden work he used to love to the care of others. Getting up from chairs requires extra effort as legs are not as strong as they once were. And balance is always a concern. One false step and bad things can happen.
For now mom is the more steady on her feet. Because of this she is able to assist with some of those responsibilities that dad used to own. Her strength affords that additional measure of independence that might otherwise elude them. If she could not do it they would have to find someone to help them. Once you head down that road it is not uncommon to find you are unable to return to the independent ways of earlier days.
My parents are fortunate mom is able to help where she can but it is not always easy. Sometimes she is forced to step outside her comfort zone to do things that had always been dad’s domain. Occasionally she must walk a fine line balancing the temptation to offer too much help before letting dad give it his best. It is easy to want to help with every little thing, to make it easier for the one you love. But if you take away all of the activities and chores that are part of a normal day what is left? Instead of making things easier you risk triggering feelings of helplessness or uselessness. The best of intentions might be misinterpreted.
I think the biggest challenge faced when one gets to the point in life where he or she can no longer do it all on their own is dealing with growing feelings of frustration. So many of those little things that were easy to do are no longer so. From the simplest act of preparing the cups of coffee and morning repast to share in bed to changing those darn light bulbs to lifting a case of wine from the trunk onto the ground, nothing is easy. How do you not become angry when you must ask someone to do the littlest of things? What a helpless feeling it must be with each incremental loss of control and independence. No one wants to be a burden yet if you must lean on another for the simplest of chores how can you not feel that way?
We have a friend who has made a career of helping those later in years manage their daily lives. He moves from home to home doing whatever it takes to make life tolerable, more meaningful and more enjoyable for those who can no longer do it on their own. Along the way he has dealt with “rich people” who are less than considerate and rarely appreciative. He has supported and championed those too weak or sick to fight their own battles. In many cases he sacrifices his own life to be there 24/7 for clients who have no other option. He does not shy away whatever the situation. And there is no doubt those he works with are better for having him in their lives. Kudos to you Kevan.
Chances are at some point each of us will be called upon to act as caregivers. Whether for a parent, spouse, sibling or friend it’s a safe bet someone will need our help. It may be a part time requirement or an all-consuming full time commitment. Until we walk in those shoes it is not possible to know what it is like, what it requires and how difficult it can be. To all of those willing to take up the mantle and give whatever it takes know you are appreciated. The world is a better place because of your efforts.