Pardon this attempt at a Tony Robbins moment… Chicken Blogsoup for the Soul, if you will.
My careers have all shared one common thread…working with older adults in their transitions in life. Life to death. Independent and spry to debilitated under nursing care.
It has been a blessing. I have learned a tremendous amount about life, and how to live it.
No matter how lovingly and painstakingly you build the house of cards of your life, a single gust from the right angle will scatter it to the winds. And you are left with nothing except a decision.
Rebuild it. Or give up.
That great font of wisdom, American Cinema, summed this beautifully in a single line from Tim Robbins in “The Shawshank Redemption.”
“Get busy living or get busy dying.”
When the bank account drops to a level that makes you suck in a breath, remember those words.
No matter how shitty your life seems at the moment, there are people who will (Right at this moment) gladly trade lives with you.
It’s hard to believe this sometimes. Even I am living one of those situations right now.
When I do allow myself the luxury of self-pity, the waters don’t go very deep.
Because Ed always pops into my mind.
Ed was a resident of one of the retirement communities I worked at. He was well off, financially, but his life was not without its heavy burdens.
He and his wife moved in together when he could no longer care for her at home. He himself had been debilitated by strokes, which moved him slowly but surely down the path to incapacitation.
His gait was unsteady. He progressively lost his ability to speak. His health was failing. The epicenter of his life, his wife, died with he at her bedside.
But he never lost his spirit. Or his ability to laugh.
When I first met him, he could say a few words to me like “Dan”, “hi”, “good.”
But his signature was a thumbs up.
He would toddle down to the pool to swim laps in the morning in his big, white robe. His demeanor might make you think he was on vacation at Club Med.
“Mornin’ Ed! How are you today?”
Thumbs up and a crooked smile.
During his tenure there, he lived in every part of the community. Independent apartment, patio home, Assisted Living, and lastly, our skilled nursing home.
When I would need a morale boost, I would visit Ed.
His children would apoligize to me for the amount of time I had to spend with him on transferring him from one area to the next.
But I loved it. And him.
He’d throw an arm around me when we walked in the hall. I’d pour drinks for him at Happy Hour (he did enjoy his wine, regardless of doctor’s orders).
His laugh was infectious. I remember when he was in our Assisted Living neighborhood, and he really, REALLY wanted a 2 bedroom apartment. His children warned me (with mock severity) to not tell him of any coming available.
But he found out anyway. He was a smart man.
His daughters showed up at my office door, defeated. “Come on,” they said. “Let’s show it to him.”
It was just down the hall from his one bedroom apartment. I was standing in the empty 2 bedroom with his daughters when I heard the door to his apartment open. Actually I heard him giggling before his door opened, and it became a full laugh as he scooted his walker up the hallway. He was getting what he wanted, and he knew it.
Hearing him laugh made his daughters and I start laughing and shaking our heads.
This was pure Ed. Living life on his terms, and his only. Always seeking out the little things that made him happy.
Later, before I left that job, I visited Ed in the skilled nursing center. He had a private room (of course) and he was watching our new skilled care expansion being built from his window.
By this time, he could not speak at all, but utilized a small computer to speak for him. His daughters were there with him.
He pointed out the window and typed.
“When” said the computer.
“A few more months, Ed.”
“I want to be there,” said the computer.
His girls were clearly tired of the nearly half dozen moves that he had made in the past couple of years.
“Why, Dad?” With more than a little edge of irritation.
He typed. And the computer said,
“a view of the sunset.”
That got me. When his life had nearly seeped away, he still had enough spark to request the simple beauty of a sunset in his life.
I don’t know if he ever made it. I left that job shortly thereafter and he died soon after that.
My heart is full of little holes that were made by people I have lost through the years. Ed is one of those holes.
Because he taught me. He taught me that your life is what you choose to make of it, no matter what the circumstances. He taught me that you can laugh, even in the face of adversity. He taught me the power of a smile (even a crooked one) and the effect it can have. He taught me not to be afraid of a good, old fashioned Arm-around-the shoulder hug.
He taught me to constantly seek out my own view of the sunset.
And you should, too.