The following is a personal story from my own life.
As many of you know, I live in a multi-generational home with my wife and her parents. In 2011 my father-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and it was determined that my wife and I would transition our careers and move back home to help take care of him. Over the past 2 and half years his condition has continued to deteriorate and yesterday we move him to a nursing home for the final stage of his life.
This photo was taken at the end of a long and emotionally draining day. I’m not in the picture, my wife is on the left, the rest are my in-laws, I tend to be the family photographer and don’t get into many shots myself.
Moving is stressful enough at the best of times and I can only imagine what was going through my father-in-laws mind as we explained to him, over and over again, that he would not be coming home. As reality sunk in the questions turned to accusations with the most hurtful being, “so you’re throwing my out of my house?” To their credit, my mother-in-law and my wife were both very strong and no tears were shed, until we all left and were on our way home.
As this process has unfolded over the last few weeks it got me thinking about the stages of life. As we explained to him, several times, John worked hard all his life, now it’s time for him to relax and let other people take care of him.
We all start out helpless and frail, totally dependent on others for survival. As we grow both in physical strength and intellect we are able to learn to survive on our own. The first major transition is when we start school. Starting at around age 4 or 5 we are separated from our family for about 6 hours a day, we learn to socialize, problem solve and work in groups other than our traditional family units.
The next major transition occurs about 13 or 14 years later when we move away from home for the first time. Now our learning deepens, we must be able to obtain our own sources of food and we continue to develop our knowledge we begin to specialize in various areas as our abilities become a commodity that we trade with others.
Next we establish our own family units in order to pass our knowledge on to another generation. In this stage the student becomes the teacher in many different ways. In my personal experience, since my wife and I have no children of our own the passing of knowledge is a bit different than in a traditional family but it occurs none the less, through our jobs and the relationship we have with our nieces, nephews and countless other young people that touch our lives.
The later stages of life start with retirement. That time when you stop working either by choice or through necessity due to diminished capacity. Helping people plan for and navigate through this stage of life is a big part of what I do. For some it can be one of the happiest times, they can finally take their foot off the gas and relax knowing that they have worked hard and made a plan. For others who haven’t planned properly or just aren’t ready it can be terrifying.
For many, including my father-in-law, the final stage is the time of life when you completely surrender your physical needs to the help of others. At this point you have come full circle. You are now in need of help and support to maintain the basic functionality of life. Again, if you make a plan when you are younger, this transition can be a smooth and natural process but if you aren’t ready or you leave it too late, it can be abrupt and terrifying.
I feel like I should make some profound statement at this point and tie this whole thing together. Land the plane if you will. But I can’t. I don’t have anything profound or encouraging to say. You will transition through life, that’s just the way it is, whether or not you are prepared for it and how you react is out of my hands and sometimes, in the case of a disease like Alzheimer’s it’s out of your hands too.
The only thing we can do is plan, as best we can and hope for the best.
For more information on planning through various life stages write to firstname.lastname@example.org . And buy my book by clicking the link above. Between now and Mar 23, 2014 all proceeds from the sales of the book go to AIDS Care at The Meeting House.