Losing your independence can be devastating.
I was with a gentleman yesterday who needed to be assisted to his chair, he is 72. He is a tall man, very handsome, and had been an avid golfer and tennis player most of his life. This was also something he and his wife enjoyed doing together. Until now. When I arrived at their home, his wife was heading out to play golf and let me know that their caregiver would be able to answer any questions I might have.
I sat with him awhile, we talked about the weather, their beautiful garden, and the view he wakes up to every day. We talked about how he is sleeping, and eating, and thankful to not have any pain. And we talked about how weak he is, that he can only take a few steps before having to sit down. As he talked, I listened, but I also watched his face as he stared off to somewhere far away from where we were… perhaps it was his youth. Perhaps a time when he was stronger, when he could do anything he wanted to, on his own, independently, without assistance with every single thing.
I said, “this must be so frustrating for you.” He stared off for a moment, slowly turning his gaze back at me, and said, “it is devastating.”
For a moment I didn’t have the words to respond adequately. So many things went through my head. I thought about my own weakness as I age, but also as I gain weight and don’t exercise. I run out of breath way sooner than someone my age should and getting up off the floor after playing with my granddaughters can be a bit of a struggle. And this is my own doing. I do not have an illness or disease that is causing this.
I looked him and said, “I need to do things better. I need to appreciate my strength, my independence, and my health. I want to do better for myself. I realize every day that the youth is wasted on the young.”
He looked at me… and stared for a moment. I felt like I had offended him, which of course upset me. I wanted so badly to take back my words, to be more respectful and sensitive.
He said, “you are absolutely right. I don’t think people realize how quickly they can lose everything that matters to them. For me, please take better care of yourself. And appreciate your strength, your independence and your youth.”
We talked a little longer and before I left, I said, “In your honor I will do better.” And he thanked me. As I walked away, I looked back at him sitting in his chair, walking cane leaned up against him, and I thought to myself how desperately I want to do better.
I later looked up the word devastating… there are a few meanings, all of which I felt when he said it.
“highly destructive or damaging.”
“causing severe shock, distress, or grief.”
“it's a kind of extreme sadness or state of feeling emotionally wrecked.”
Imagine someone you love feeling like this. Imagine yourself feeling like this. Imagine anyone feeling like this.
Yes, I need to take better care of myself. Many of us do. But my real take-away from this time with him is the reminder of how someone else feels when their independence is taken from them; when they cannot take care of themselves, when someone has to bathe, change, and feed them. Regardless of their abilities or disabilities, everyone deserves dignity.
The next time you are caring for someone, providing all the tasks they used to be able to do for themselves, imagine how devasting that must feel for them. Be respectful, be patient, be kind, and make sure to treat them with dignity. Tell them what you are doing, take your time, cover them up so no one else sees them, and honor them as a human being.
Everyone deserves that.