ERMA's desk...: Life’s chart is unclear but it’s relevant for all

Each of us has a lifetime warranty. So live life conscientiously.

It is amazing to think that life in itself can be experienced as a passing moment validating the saying, “here today, gone tomorrow”. The beginning of life is a real mystery and the end of life remains a greater mystery. This statement is true for every human being. What differs is the moment that has been given to each one, that moment or those years we call lifespan. How each person is valued and validated is dependent on those left behind. In the following scenarios, you will understand the reason I have made the statement about life, death and the validation of an individual.

Recently I visited a long-time friend and realized that she has declined so much in about five months that I went to a quiet place of shock. She is an eighty-three-year-old senior who lives in a senior apartment with assisted living services. She immigrated to Canada about thirty-five years ago and was a domestic employee for an affluent family in Toronto. She has lived on her own now for about twenty years. She belongs to a church community but that community is made up of a group of mostly aged individuals. Visits from her church family appear to be few but she doesn’t appear lucid enough at times to give an accurate account of the visits she gets. She has one cousin who visits her once weekly and helps her out with her banking, grocery shopping and medical appointments etc.

When I arrived I knocked on the door and she opened it for me, even though I did not tell her I was coming to visit. This concerns me because anyone could be at her door. When she opened the door she stood about two feet away from the door and I asked her, why is she in that bent over position and she replied, “I don’t know”. I asked her to straighten up but she was unable to focus to completely straightened her spine. I stood immediately behind her and said to her stop! She was so distracted that she continued walking away. I called her by her name and said to her, you are bending forward so much that I am afraid you will fall over. I shed a silent tear for her because she has changed so much that I am afraid to let myself think of what life will be like for her in the near future. I wanted to hug her but I felt like I didn’t know her. I felt she may not even know what I am doing. This may sound like an excuse but it is one I will have to live with. I felt even more terrible when I was leaving and she hugged me and said to me, thank you for remembering me and for visiting me. Throughout the visit, I had to ask her where was some simple household items such as her kitchen towel? She had them covered down inside a pot on her table. Her wallet was inside her freezer along with some other items.

She spends the first fifteen minutes of our visit looking for her wallet. I had to hold on to her hand and say to her, come and sit and talk with me for a while; you can search for your wallet after I am gone. She was so distracted that I started helping her to search for her wallet. Upon me finding her wallet in the freezer, she promptly took it from me and went and hid it in the bathroom. It is obvious that she is having some memory issues.

The question I am asking myself is, what can I do for her? This was a painful visit for me. My hope is that it was more painful for me than it was for her. How do you help someone like this? Where would I start? She is too confused so she is not a good candidate for the Alzheimer’s Day Program. This is an idea I know she would never agree to. I am unsure how much she is eating. In conversation, she told me she had seven cans of Ensure in one night. She thought this was funny so she was laughing hilariously when sharing the story. If she had more family interaction or more visits from her church community would she be less confused? I don’t know.

She is on medication for Alzheimer’s but she cannot remember the dosage. She is to have a half of a pill and sometimes she takes a whole pill. I connected with her cousin who visits her weekly and he has the same concerns but she will not agree to even consider Long Term Care. She has lucid moments and knows what Long Term Care means, and maybe will never agree to go there. I am saddened by the degree of confusion she displayed that day. I spoke to her about a month later and she said she will not open her door unless she knows who is knocking because she is afraid someone will force their way into her apartment and hurt her. My only recourse is to stay in touch with her and with her cousin to help to monitor her situation.

Conversely, I recently had a conversation with a long time friend and was quite surprised when she told me she is trying to find peace with the term “semi-retired”. It was a bit sobering to hear her say that she is not ready to retire because she can’t think of what she will do with her time. She said I have travelled to almost every place that is of interest to me. She further stated that she thinks she would have been better off if she had waited until she is retired to travel to some of the places that she already visited. She continued her lament about her life by saying, at this point in her work life she is still busy with reduced work hours, committee work and church involvement. She continued sharing her feelings by saying she feels disconnected from real-life challenges. She said she wants something to keep her truly engaged that she can add to her emotions, which will give her the opportunity to add her signature to it.

She verbalized some self-validation saying she spent her life fully engaged in family affairs, education, and a great work life; she added I have done well as a mom, wife and an employee. She remarked that the children are out of the home and her work life is coming to an end. In summarizing her thoughts by saying now I need something to anchor me, so I can feel a real connection to something of worth.

My understanding of her dilemma is that she feels a sense of dissatisfaction because she worked hard but feels unfulfilled. She doesn’t feel nor believes she got publicly credited/acknowledge for her hard work. Satisfaction for her would come from having her name attached to a project/product with her name as founder or creator. This product would remain valuable/viable throughout her lifetime and beyond. I never thought of such accomplishment for myself. I have done a few things that will live on even after my passing. I was not intentional in doing so but in reflection, I guess we all feel a need to be validated. Some of us maybe require validation on a huge scale while others are satisfied with just being helpful to those in need.

In an attempt to rescue her from spiralling downward with that search or desire to have her name carved in history, which would speak of her creative ability, I asked her about projects she has completed with other staff. She is an IT specialist so I couldn’t think of anything else to ask her.  I am concerned for her because she is entering into retirement with dissatisfaction and anxiety. How will she really cope when she is fully retired. The truth of retirement is very individualized so there is no perfect plan to make it any less personal. It is a physical and emotional experience and an exercise that will stretch you. Without a plan, you could fall into a depression but with a plan and a good support system, you could manage retirement and not allow it to manage you. Eventually, I was able to redirect her to look at the different lives she has affected over the years. I encouraged her to find value in those areas and not focus on a “signature piece”. I tried telling her that in the immediate, her accomplishment may be visible but with time it fades like everything else. If anyone is curious about the work they may have to do some research to find out the name of the creator. The lives she has touched and changed forever is equally honourable and took effect even when she wasn’t intentional about it. I am unsure if I got through to her but I am convinced of the validity of my statement. I believe authenticity has a life of its own and needs no popularity contest. It is in a category of its’ own.

People retire because of several reasons. Depending on the reason for retirement, individuals may be affected differently. Retirement requires some planning, and even then, it will take some adjustment. Every spectrum of life requires adjustment. My eighty three-year-old friend is at a different place in life where her safety is paramount. With such a rapid decline in such a short time, it speaks to the fragility of life. How does one prepare for that? These two encounters are a real eye-opener for me, so I have decided to share it with the readers to say if you haven’t seen an aged friend or family member in a while if you can visit, do so quickly. If a few years have passed, brace yourself because, after a certain age, the decline seems to be quite rapid especially if there is some memory loss.

For those nearing retirement, here is some pre-retirement food for thought. Five years prior to retirement start to actively de-clutter your home because when you retire, you don’t want to have to deal with a lot of clutter. When you take vacation use that time to set some patterns as a tester for retirement. If you can retire without credit card debts do so by whatever means necessary. Cut back on expensive gift giving. Make a special dish for your friends or grandchildren’s birthday etc. If you live in a home and you plan to stay there after you have retired, try to do all necessary renovations before you retire. Save your money to keep your home warm in the winter months. A cold environment is not good for older individuals especially those with Arthritis. This is important because when you retire, depend on your lifestyle you could be home a lot. You have to warm your home because you are no longer at work where the employer has the responsibility to warm the building.

Do not loan money that you cannot afford to lose to anyone because you have no way of recovering that money if the person chooses to rob you. These thoughts may not be applicable to everyone but you may be able to share with someone else. At the end who or what will tell our story? How will we be validated? How important is that in the grand scheme of life? Don’t be too concern about what will be said because the paintbrush of life, if you may, is in the hand of someone else.

 

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