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Making Time to Live in the Now

The National Care Planning Council has always emphasized the need to plan and prepare early for your elderly years. This is crucial in order to avoid having to come out of retirement, deal with debt from care costs, and be a financial burden on your children. However, there can be a point when our focus is so pinned on the future that we forget to live in the now.

Many people are often taken from us in our lives at unexpected times, but as we and our loved ones near our elderly years, death is a certainty in our future that is closer than we may like to think. We could do countless hours of planning to insure that our golden years will remain happy and nearly care-free, and then a stroke or heart attack could come suddenly and take us away. At that point all that planning did nothing for us except take time away from our precious last moments we could have been spending with our loved ones.

In our busy world today, we are so concerned about making certain that every detail is taken care of that we sometimes forget to consider the possibility that we or our loved ones may never make it to this future we’re planning for. The National Care Planning Council will never diminish the importance of planning, but we will emphasize the wasted unimportance of over planning.

Work, school, financial affairs, appointments, dates: these are all things that have high priority in our lives and are usually our excuses for not spending more time with our elderly loved ones. We often use every twenty seconds of free time just to move on to the next task. Every one of those twenty-second periods someone in the United States has a heart attack. (1) Thirty-four seconds might give us time to say a quick hello to a colleague or a friend before we get pushed into another meeting. Thirty-four seconds was just enough time for another person in the U.S. to die of heart disease. (2) In forty seconds, we may stop for a drink but it’s not nearly long enough for us to make a proper phone call before our next appointment. In forty seconds, another person in the United States will have a stroke. (3)

In one day, we will rush through 86,400 seconds of our lives moving from work to home to dinner appointments, etc. In one day, 111,646 people will die in those same seconds we just took for granted. (4) We’ve all known since we were very young that one day we would reach a point when our bodies would no longer function, and soon after we would die.  However, we were never formally taught how to handle ourselves when caring for loved ones facing that point in their lives.

For some of us, it may be hard to face our loved ones when we know that they are soon facing death. For others of us, we just don’t realize how little time they may have left. Whatever the reason, we need to stop for a moment and forget about planning for the future until we can learn to live in the now.

From the moment we were born, our clocks began ticking down to the day we would die. There’s so much out there to live for that we just have to cram it all in, but we can’t forget as we try to live our lives, to remember our elderly loved ones who may not be with us for much longer. Our time with family, our relationships, those are the moments and experiences that are going to remain with us until the day we die – not so much our work hours, promotions, or accomplishments in school.

We can’t be afraid to face our loved ones because we’re afraid to face death ourselves. It’s the moments that we’re still alive that count. We have to accept the fact that one day, maybe soon, our elderly loved ones will die and so will we, which is why we have to make time to laugh with them, talk with them, and say silent goodbyes to them while we still have the chance.

There is a beautiful song sung by Jessie Clark that really sums up this concept in the last verse: “I’ve told myself that it’s alright to run without hesitation. Enjoy the ride and live my life ’cause now I know, there’s no final place where dreams come true, no better world than this, just the moments filled with joy and tears, where hopes and fears exist.”

We never know how much time anyone has left, but we have these seconds, 86,400 of them each day to use before it’s too late. The moments, the last moments, we will spend with our elderly loved ones are crucial for our healing process once they’re gone. If we don’t spend that time with them, we will regret it and those regrets will make it nearly impossible for us to forgive ourselves and move on.

We will always have fears of death – it’s human nature, but we have to remember that when we avoid visiting our elderly loved ones, we’re not protecting ourselves from getting hurt, we’re harming ourselves by adding more regrets we’ll one day be burdened to carry. We’re not visiting with death when we spend time with our elderly loved ones; we’re visiting with life – their beautiful last moments of life, and we don’t want to miss out on that. After all it’s time we learn, as Jessie Clark says, to “live not only survive” because “If not now, when?”

If you’d like, take a moment to listen to the words of “The Station” sung by Jessie Clark in the slideshow video below:

When Death Comes Knocking

Death is the one inevitable part of life. No one can escape it; no one can outrun it. Death swoops in and takes who it will, not caring much for those left behind. Many times in life, death comes unexpectedly, touching us in ways that fill our hearts with grief, anguish, and pain. As elderly parents age, death looms closer and closer each day. The struggle is for the children to prepare for their parents’ deaths and begin to accept it.

As death nears, the body begins to shut down. Your loved one may not desire to eat or drink as much as they used to. The National Caregivers Library says, “The person’s body lets him/her know when it no longer desires or can tolerate foods or liquids. The loss of this desire is a signal that the person is making ready to leave.” It is their choice not to eat, meaning their body no longer wants food or water. This is not painful for them at this point as empty stomachs and dehydration no longer make them uncomfortable.

Your loved one may also feel that they don’t want to be around many people. They may become more introverted and seek the company of only one or two people, especially as their life nears the end. “This is a sign of preparation for release and affirms from whom the support is most needed in order to make the appropriate transition. If you are not part of this inner circle at the end, it does not mean you are not loved or are unimportant.” (Hospice)

The elderly feel weak and fatigued as they near death. This means they will sleep more, become less communicative, and may be difficult to awaken at times. As the National Caregivers Library says, “At this point, ‘being with’ is more important than ‘doing for.’ Never assume that the person cannot hear. Hearing may still remain very acute although the person may seem asleep.” Because of this you shouldn’t say anything out loud that you wouldn’t say if your loved one were actively awake. You should speak softly and naturally. Simply hearing your voice can help your loved one through this difficult time.

When the time comes that these signs are present and your loved one’s body is fading, you, as their support system, need to let go. Stewart Alsop said, “A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist.” Most elderly that die of old age have lived a long, fulfilling life. Their body is preparing to die, and it is your responsibility to help them mentally by allowing yourself to say goodbye.

“A dying person will commonly try to hold on, even though it brings prolonged discomfort, in order to be assured that those left behind will be all right. A family’s ability to reassure and release the dying person from this concern is the greatest gift of love they can give at this time.” (National Caregivers Library)

Take a moment to sit with your loved one and say a personalized ‘goodbye.’ Many people who lose loved ones never get the chance to say all that they wanted to. Living with these regrets makes grieving more difficult and causes healing to take more time. Crying is a normal and natural part of saying goodbye. Don’t try to hide your tears or apologize for them. Tears show your love for the one near death, and they will help you to let go.

When death comes knocking, for it will, make sure you’re as prepared as possible to help your loved one die in peace and then to help yourself to let go and move on. Death is the one inevitable part of life, the one thing we should be able to prepare for, yet even when we think we’re prepared, we find that losing someone close to us is still painful and heartbreaking. It is natural to feel grief and sorrow, each copes with death in their own way, but in the end, we all must accept what has come and move on.


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