Monthly Archives: August 2012

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:


Falling Down and Staying Down (Loss of Independence and the Elderly)

As we entered our teenage years, many of us looked forward with eagerness to the day we turned eighteen. For us, our eighteenth birthday symbolized the moment that culturally we were accepted to break away from our families and hometown communities and claim our independence, an independence we felt would last for the rest of lives. Unfortunately, many of us don’t realize that eventually our independence will fade away, sometimes just as quickly as it came.

Though gaining our independence at eighteen brings a feeling of accomplishment, losing our independence in our elderly years brings feelings of shame and embarrassment. Our country is one that has prided itself on its values of freedom and independence. We applaud those who take initiative and work hard to make their mark on the world. We tend to ignore and look down upon those who are unable to contribute to our society, those who no longer have the ability to work, to provide, and sometimes to even leave their own home.

With the Olympics here and the Paralympics soon to follow, we will soon find ourselves in front of our televisions, cheering on the underdogs. We become inspired by the men and woman who have lost limbs and gone through untold hardships yet still manage to remain independent and strong enough to compete for a medal. We have an attitude in this country that when you get down, you have to get back up.

All of these feelings and expectations weigh down on our elderly as they reach the point of dependency where many of them, no matter how hard their minds fight it, will never run, cook, or even drive again. The loss of being able to perform these simple actions damages their self-esteem and feelings of self-worth.

Paula Span, a blog writer for the New York Times, said, “Dependence generates anger, shame, defiance. It’s acceptable only for the very young; among adults, it’s not merely an uncomfortable personal reality, it’s un-American. We are all supposed to be able to take care of ourselves, apparently forever.”

There is not much we can do to change the views of our society, but we can have a large influence on the views our elderly loved ones hold of themselves. As we often look at the TV or Internet and see models, actors, athletes, etc. who have attributes that we wish we could see in ourselves, our elderly loved ones watch Americans across our nation praise and cheer the man who ran his first marathon when he was ninety years old or the woman who finished college at age eight-eight.

We never praise the average American, the man who worked in a factory his entire life supporting his family and now, due to so much physical exertion in his younger years, is housebound and requiring 24-hour care to help with simple everyday tasks he wishes he could still perform. Similarly, we never hear stories about the woman who raised eight children, took care of them through all their troubles, and now is left alone in a nursing home to be taken care of as if she were a child again.

The majority (two-thirds) of older Americans will reach a point of dependency in their lives when they will require help with everyday tasks. Many of these Americans are Veterans, past leaders of service organizations, parents, active community leaders, and most of them will be us one day. As we visit and spend meaningful time with our elderly loved ones, it’s important for us to always be aware of the expectations we may place upon them whether purposeful or not.

When a person has lived eighty years, they certainly have stories to tell. Take a moment to find out the great accomplishments they have done in their lives. Make them feel proud of where they’ve been and what they’ve done. Let your elderly loved ones know that just because they need some extra help doesn’t mean they’re any less of a person in your eyes.

The world will always favor the underdog who rises from the dust, but we can’t allow ourselves to forget the underdog who no longer has the ability to rise, but who doesn’t deserve any less praise and support. So as we cheer on our Paralympic athletes, let’s not forget to give a shout-out to Grandma, sitting beside us in her rocking chair, or Grandpa, eagerly awaiting our visit in his facility. They may not be television stars, but they’re family, and that should make them important to us.

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