I had a client who was a rancher in the good ‘ol days. Harold built his house on 40 acres and lived there till he died. He had Alzheimer and his daughter had hired my company to provide him with 24 hour care. Although Harold could not remember many things in present time, he still remembered his land. Ranching was in his blood. He wanted more than anything to ride his tractor and said so everyday. We wanted to protect him from harm and tried to distract him by hiding the keys.
One day he found the key, sneaked out to the barn, started the tractor, and rode it around the property. The caregiver called in a panic and we called the daughter. We tried to convince him to get off, but he just smiled and laughed through the whole adventure. He ended up in a ditch, unharmed, and so full of his youth. In that moment he looked and I believe felt 15 years younger. His daughter was loving and wise. She said, “If he kills himself or gets hurt, at least I know he was happy.”
Life without adventure, freedom, and the power to create our experiences is a dull life. And you know it. It’s like being in prison. And who wants that!
Our fear should not be the rule, for determining what our seniors can do. There is a point that we all need to recognize, we will all die some day. My grandfather died in a laundromat some 50 years ago. But he died doing something he loved! Don’t know why he loved it, but that doesn’t matter. My young friends’ dad died riding his bike. None of us know how or when we will leave this earth, and we can’t live with such fear of that end, that we don’t live at all.
Someone told me recently that he was frustrated with his dad who insisted on climbing ladders two stories to clean out his gutters. His dad was a contractor all his adult life. He loved tinkering around his home and a ladder was something he’d climbed a million times. But now when he got to the top he’d forget why he was up there. The son would yell at his dad to come down and explain that he was too old to be doing that kind of activity. Of course the son was fearful that dad might fall and hurt himself or even worse, die. He looked to me as the expert, to confirm that his concern and actions were ‘in the right.’ I disappointed him. My concern was whether or not the son knew what the dad would want to have happen if he were to injure himself. In other words, did dad communicate to the son what he wanted if something should happen to him? Did he have a plan for his aging process? Where did he want to live, who would care for him, etc.
No one wants to be caged. We all want to do the things that make us happy, bring us joy, spice up our lives, and keep us engaged. Is our job as adult children to inhibit our parents movements, decisions, activities, etc., as they age? If so then we become jailers. And at some point the inmates will revolt.
My mom at 76 is on Match.com. She’s not looking for a lover necessarily. She’s looking for companionship, someone to go to the movies with, someone to add interest to her life. When we talk, she shares her encounters and new conversations. She’s lit up like a school girl. There is adventure, excitement, newness in her life. Is there danger? Of course. She might meet up with a crazy guy. But the joy I hear in her voice as she adds new experiences into her life is something I won’t take away from her.
So many times I’ve seen the life sucked out of seniors as concerned children, through their desire to protect, inhibit, restrict, and control their parents’ activities. These seniors lose even more than their youth, they lose their zest for life. Yes there may be limits, but most of them know what that is. And they have the right to play, extend, yes, even take risks, in order to continue to be excited by life. Otherwise, depression sets in. They feel useless. Life becomes one big dull moment of drudgery. It’s not so much that they can’t move the way they used to, can’t see as well, can’t hear as well, etc. as it is the perception of others that they must do nothing but live a quiet, safe life until they die.
I know that’s not the way I plan to do it. Just because I’m 80 and have maybe 10 more years to live, doesn’t mean I want to preserve myself by playing it safe so that I can live to be 95. No way. If I were told I had 2 years to live, I’d live them full out. I’d push the limits of my capacities. I’d savor every experience. I’d share all my thoughts, my love, my feelings. I’d dare myself to be as much as I can be for as long as I can. I think it would be fun. I wouldn’t curtail my adventure one bit just to save myself one more day. Would you?