Maybe it’s the time of year — I don’t really know. But this has been coming up a lot lately, so here I go again.
Most of us aren’t really looking to live forever, and that’s good, because the odds are against it. Let’s face it: We’ve all been rolling the dice since the day we showed up on this planet.
People often ask me, “How should I plan for long-term care?” (or something like that), to which I reply: “Make a lot of money, be extraordinarily healthy and make sure that your very large family really likes you — and there still won’t be any guarantees.”
That’s not to say that it isn’t worth our time to plan — it certainly is! Because there are a lot of things we can do to make this aging thing easier for ourselves and the people we purport to love. But what people usually want when they ask that question (or something like it) are guarantees.
Not on this planet.
But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try, so we try to figure out what could go “wrong”: Money? Health? Food? Shelter? Transportation? Money? (“Money” usually shows up more than once) — and that’s good!
And sometimes good people come to me because they want to help people — usually Elders — who need help. So they ask me how to help, thinking the reply will have something to do with a program or a building or a service they could perform — and there may well be! But here’s what puts most folks “under” most of the time: ignorance, isolation and fear.
It often goes like this: She or he begins to realize, for any number of reasons, that she or he needs a little “help,” but she or he is terrified that if they (whoever they are) knew how much help she or he needed, they would put her or him in a nursing home! And, in my world, many of us are more terrified of nursing homes than we are of morgues, so we say nothing — we just “get by.”
With no help, things get worse over time — and where do they end up? Right.
Or maybe they honestly had no idea that there was any “help” to be had, so what’s to ask? Or maybe it’s pride — but mostly, it’s about fear. And being alone.
People who do what I do (or something like it) spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out “what old people want,” although they usually phrase it more diplomatically. But in my simplistic view of an overly complex planet, it isn’t tough: Just close your eyes in a quiet place for a very short time and imagine what you’d want. Care to hear something amazing? Most of us just saw the same picture.
We want our lives to look as much as possible the way they look right now: being who we are, doing what we do, in more or less the same way, in more or less the same place.
So, what am I suggesting we should do (besides be rich, healthy and live on the first floor of the Waltons’ farmhouse)? Fair question. Here’s a fair answer:
2. Learn who knows about all this “help stuff,” so you can learn what you need to learn, when you need to learn it.
3. Don’t close the curtains and don’t turn off the phone, because if the only person you’re ever around is you, right now is as smart and happy as you will ever be.
4. Remember that courage is not the absence of fear.
I often remind people that “nobody can put anybody anywhere that they don’t want to be,” which means that they can’t put you in a nursing home just because you need a little help. The fact is, most of us will never see the inside of a nursing home, unless (a) we’ve gone to visit someone, or (b) we’re there for short-term rehab. Yes, Alzheimer’s and strokes and whatever else can land some of us in institutions, but for the vast majority of us? No.
Can I absolutely guarantee you that whatever “help” there might be will be exactly the way you want it, when you want it and at the price you like? Of course not — this is Earth.
Can I promise you that, if you do everything “right,” you won’t die in a less-than-perfect way, at a less-than-perfect time? No. So, we’re back to rolling the dice — and having the courage to tell a friend that maybe everything isn’t so swell … or making that phone call, or telling your doctor, or actually reading that brochure.
And if everything really is OK? You’re doing all right and you’re living your life and you’re pretty much enjoying it, most of the time? And you want to “help”? Be somebody’s friend. You don’t need a degree in social work to know how to do that.
You know someone who is alone — yes, you do — and maybe they say they want to be alone, so what do you do? Don’t be a social worker, and don’t “rescue” them or “save” them or tell them what to do, because you wouldn’t take that, either. Just be a friend.
So, think, plan, learn, prepare and do as much of the “right stuff” as you can, as much as possible — and be sure that your very large family really likes you! It’s up to us to enjoy this ride, so go enjoy it!
And remember that ignorance, isolation and fear all start with “alone.”
“One” really is the loneliest number.
Mark Harvey is the director of information and assistance for the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He can be reached by email at email@example.com; by phone at 360-532-0520 in Aberdeen, 360-942-2177 in Raymond, or 360-642-3634; or through Facebook at Olympic Area Agency on Aging-Information & Assistance.