In the Comments section on From an Old Woman To Her Son, Maria of Silver Fox Whispers voiced this common fear: “I too am scared of becoming very old and a burden. In the same HSBC survey quoted here yesterday, just over half the respondents said they worry about being a burden to their families in their old age.
As I noted in Part 1, none of us can predict the future, but we can prepare for possible eventualities and the only way I know of fighting fear is to get it out in the open and shine a big, bright light on it and – focus on what we can control.
In the case of potential burdensomeness, good nutrition, regular exercise and keeping our minds active go a long way toward maintaining our health as we get older. But we also need to plan for the possibility that "stuff happens" and we may not be able to go it alone until the end. That means knowing the options, discussing them openly with children and other loved ones, and making decisions together before the need arises.
Life has a habit of throwing surprises our way and we can’t always know what they will be, but living wills and other instruments with instructions on our wishes if we become incapable of living independently are important way to ease our fears of the unknowable.
There is another view of becoming a “burden” I’d like to offer. It comes, as in Part 1, from Ram Dass who after suffering a stroke that left his mind intact, could no longer care for his physical self:
“Dependency is a big hurdle for most people…We value taking care of others, but shun the notion of being taken care of ourselves…Rather than opening our hands to accept what others have to offer, many of us close down when we have to ask for something, making it hard to be grateful, and creating a situation that’s no fun for anybody…
“This is the paradox of what we call misfortune: that so often what we most resist bestows on our lives the greatest, most unexpected blessings. I do not mean this in a Pollyanna sense – none of us, including myself, would wish to be overly dependent on others, or to be unable to care for ourselves.
"I mean simply to acknowledge that when such role changes come to pass, we’re often surprised by benefits, and deep learning, that we would not have anticipated.
“When you meet someone who is dependent but who’s not caught up in all those traps, it’s amazing how light and delightful their dependency becomes. People who take care of someone who’s dependent in that way come away feeling they’ve received a gift.
"And isn’t that really the game of human relationships – that when we walk away, we both feel gifted from having been in the exchange?”
- - Still Here, Ram Dass
I know of what Ram Dass speaks in a profound and personal way. As I wrote in the series about my mother’s final days:
“In those months we spent 24 hours a day together, Mom showed me the better, most decent parts of myself. She showed me how to reach for more than I thought I had. She saw to it that I found the best in myself.
“In her last, most important lesson, Mom gave me the greatest gift of my life: She taught me about my own goodness.”
It would have been easier for my mother if she had died quietly in her sleep without the months of her dependency on me, and I would wish that could have been so for her sake. But those choices are not our own to make, and no other event in my 64 years of experience has had such a profound and positive effect on me as caring for my mother around the clock during the last months of her life. She was never a burden from my point of view.
Like Ram Dass, I hope to make it to the grave without dependency, but should that happen, perhaps I can bestow such a gift on those who care for me and not label it a burden.