Beginning the last chapter.By Rabbi Richard F. Address, DMin
Longevity has many blessings. It has given us the gift of time, and if we are blessed, that time provides millions of people with untold opportunities for new experiences.
Longevity has its challenges as well. I have written in this space about new life stages that our longer life spans have created. I have written on the life stage of caregiver, which can last for years.
It now seems that I have encountered another aspect of that caregiver stage. My mom, who is in her mid-90s, is now dealing with an accelerating case of dementia. It had, in the past few months, begun to take away her ability to function. It has landed her in the hospital and confronted us with new choices and new realities, among them being the fact that we have begun the last chapter.
As many of you know, it is easier to teach the “art” of caregiving to a class than it is to live it. As many of us learn, it is easier to speak about working with a parent than it is to try to make sense of the illogic of a moment with a mom or dad who may still see you as her or his child. Standing in a hospital corridor, it is daunting to be faced with the need to understand, within just a few moments, the complexities of negotiating the Medicare-Medicaid health systems. But many of us do.
I keep trying to remember that this will all work out and that it is important to take care of the “me” that can so easily be lost. A doctor I spoke with kept reminding me to remember to eat right, exercise, and take time each day to try to renew the soul. Certainly there is enough literature on this to support the fact that the health of a caregiver is of primary concern given the stresses that must be endured. Yet, as many of you know, it is easier said than done!
So, we have entered a new stage of this long caregiving journey. Longevity is a blessing—for some. But for others? We value and praise the value of life. Every religious tradition does, and no one argues or finds fault with that. A challenge, however, for an increasing number, will be to remember the gift and beauty of life in circumstances that challenge that gift. An underlying value still is “dignity and sanctity.” At the edge of an abyss of unknown proportion, it is a calling to remember that dignity and sanctity, and safety and security, are still present and powerful aspects of life, even as that life begins to make its final turn.