I was talking today about the plight of an older man. During his younger years he ran around and played hard. He gambled, drank and treated the people in his life badly. Now, in his elderly years, he is in poor health, physically and mentally challenged, and being taken care of by his second wife. Many questioned whether she was doing it well, or whether she had his best interests at heart. It was a sad conversation.
Few of us think in our younger years about the time when we will be a burden. Frankly, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it either. But today, my husband said, “I never want to be a burden,” and it struck me — like it or not — I will be a burden. If I plan to live my life to the fullest, if I want to be in my 90’s someday, it is not just likely it is inevitable.
Today, I am in the prime of my life. Not only am I capable of taking care of all of my own needs, I have enough left over to take care of others. I am mostly an anti-burden, although I have learned to ask for help when I need it. I can lift, climb, and tote anything on the boat. I can understand almost any request, and articulate questions. There isn’t a hobby or activity that I want to do that I can’t do. Or help my husband do.
But, that won’t always be the case. There will come a time when I can’t climb onto the boat without help. When leaning down to take off dock lines will be not just difficult, but impossible. Someday, dragging a kitchen chair over to get into that stupid cabinet over the fridge won’t just be annoying, it will be imprudent and risky. Someday, my kids (or grandkids) will hear that I had to climb to get something down from a shelf and they will immediately worry.
The thing that I try to keep in mind is that I don’t, for even one minute, think that helping my aging loved ones is a burden. When I get a call for help I’m thankful. I see it as a chance to pay back all of the gifts and help given when I was too young to take care of myself. When I can put a hand under my grandfather elbow, or run down into the basement to grab something for my mom, it is a burden lifted. I can be useful — I can make it easier for someone who worked their whole life to make it easier for me. To me, that’s what this prime of life stuff is all about. Paying it back and paying it forward. Because I can.
So when I think about my elder years, I hope that I can learn to be gracious about being a burden. I hope that I can learn to set reasonable boundaries and ask for help. Sitting on my boat, right this minute, I hope that I find young people who will help me continue to sail. I hope that they will give me an extra hand to get onboard, crawl into the tight spaces to stow stuff and take over the docking routine. I hope they will trust my experience while I trust in their strength and flexibility. I hope that my kids (and grandkids) will see it like I do; that I will let them lift my burdens just enough so that we can both feel good about the weight shared.
This year has made me think about aging in new and different ways. Watching both people and pets struggle with the challenges of chronic pain and growing weakness has been hard. It has forced me to acknowledge that — God willing — those same issues will be my issues someday.
And when I am a burden, I hope to be the best gosh darn burden possible.