Are you in a hectic schedule of holiday shopping and holiday parties and finding yourself longing for a slower pace, a simpler celebration? Do you dream of a gift list that is void of anything digital or electronic?
Oftentimes the simplest of gifts has the largest impact and remains a precious memory forever.
I have such a gift; one I received three years ago. It came from a friend’s mother who I only knew briefly.
When I first met Alice, a friend’s mother, she was in a nursing facility rehabbing with multiple health challenges. Alice was faced with a dilemma. Her doctors advised amputation of a foot in order to prolong her life a year. Without the amputation, she would have only a few months to live.
Alice did not want to be a burden to her family. She knew an amputation would lead to more dependency and painful physical therapy. With full cognition, she decided she would leave the rehab center without the amputation and return to her daughter’s home, where she had lived for the past ten years, to die. Her family accepted her brave decision and although at times they wanted to convince her to have the surgery, they put plans in place to bring her home as she wanted.
The rehab facility staff was not so accepting of her decision and continued in their attempts to persuade her to reverse her decision. They came to her bedside daily to perform physical therapy in preparation of her having an amputation. Alice held steadfast and refused the therapy. She was tired and had embraced the understanding of her death. Alice wanted to be in control of her end of life care. The way she saw it, everyone in the health care business was simply getting in the way of her dying.
She confided those feelings to me before leaving the rehab center. Alice was brilliant of mind, abreast of current news, innately curious about everything, and engaged in her life with family. She instinctively knew of my worries for my own mother and understood how difficult it was for the caregivers watching a loved one suffer.
She spoke of hoping that those involved in the health care field would advocate for those who no longer could. She asked that I share her story of her experience. She was adamant that we allow all patients to be respected for their health decisions when they are fully competent to make those decisions. Alice wanted the possibility of a better system in which we age.
After Alice died in the predicted time frame, I received a note, the gift I now treasure, which she had composed after meeting with me. She was aware of how concerned I was for my mother’s care, stating, “Hopefully your mother will adjust to the ever-changing landscape of aging that she and I have arrived at.” She thought that I should be gentle with myself. I have kept her note and refer to it often. Alice continues to be that inspiration to listen to our elderly and try to make improvements for how all of us age.
A simple note with words of care, a visit to a nursing facility, a phone call to someone who is shut-in, a check-in on a neighbor are all within our reach to give during this holiday season. The long lasting effects of our small acts of kindness cannot be measured. How might you reach out to spread joy this year?
North Shore Elder Services wishes everyone a joyous holiday season.