I finally had lunch with my elderly neighbor on Valentine’s Day. I had invited her out before, but she kept telling me that she’s going home tomorrow. When she didn’t come home, we went to visit her at the assisted living facility. And again, she tells us she’s going home tomorrow.
She’s going home tomorrow – it’s something that she says every day. Fortunately, there’s always a tomorrow, an infinite reality where her statement remains true.
So, at lunch she brings up the topic of her going home. Although her memory is a problem, she’s quite aware that she keeps telling people that she’s going home tomorrow. Because in reality, she didn’t intend to stay as long as she has, but she likes the comfort the facility provides: there’s always people around to look after you, there’s always company when you’re watching tv, there’s always events/activities offered, and they take care of laundry and meals. The only problem of course is that it’s expensive. She’s reluctant to sell her house because she’s worried that she might outlast her finances.
She’s in the early stages of dementia, and I’m sure that the things she says, and the things she forgets make her seem eccentric to people who don’t know her. But to me, in our conversations, she’s very cognizant of her situation and concerned about the “big” picture issues. She has always been a very intelligent person and those senses haven’t dulled as much as people think.
But with that intelligence is also a strong sense of pride. A pride that currently keeps her trapped in a resentment that shuns reconciliation and amends which would make her life better. I ask her about her family as support or alternatives for assisted living. Apart from the brother she loves dearly, she has a strained relationship with the rest. People would say that she is “set her in ways,” which is true for most elderly people.
I don’t know what to tell her other than she needs to decide what is going to give her the best sense of well-being. And, the notion of well-being is different for everyone.
“To be honest with you, I don’t know why I’m here,” she said.
“Well, I don’t think many of us don’t know why we’re here either,” I tell her.
“Ah, clever, very funny.”
We all have difficult decisions in our lives. And often times, life doesn’t present us with the most appealing choices.
So, we come back to Frederick Nietzsche: ‘He who has a why can endure any how.’
It always starts with the problem why.
Having a reason to get up in the morning, a sense of purpose, a focus in your life provides you with at stable foundation, something strong enough for you to endure the weight of life with its struggles, its sorrows, its suffering.
What if you don’t have a why? No family, no spouse/significant other, no children, no job/career, no faith.
Where do you find the why?
Is comfort the same as well-being?
And how do you help others find meaning in their life?
To help them stay engaged with life?
These are rhetorical questions that all have answers, it just takes some of us longer than others to discover them. If we want them. Sometimes the question is more compelling than the answers.