What’s Next?

What’s Next?

In thinking about what the future might hold, I want to  acquaint you with some excellent authors and books, which offer encouraging suggestions if you have aging parents or relatives that are your responsibility, and also provide an early and excellent resource on looking ahead to retirement giving you tested and tried  ideas in getting ready mentally, physically and spiritually for wise future decisions.

Son, Roger, gave me an extremely informative book on my 83rdbirthday, Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, (MD MPH) that I’m still integrating and recommending. Dust cover information says “Doctors are trained to keep their patients alive as long as possible. But they are never taught how to prepare people to die. And yet for many patients, particularly the old and terminally ill, death is a question of when, not if. Should the medical profession rethink its approach to them? And in what way? With aging populations and hospital costs rising globally, these questions have become increasingly relevant.  Atul Gawande argues that an acceptance of mortality must lie at the center of the way we treat the dying.”

According to Jim’s and my custom, I read this book aloud as we traveled. Jim liked to drive and listening kept him awake. Jim and I discussed Being Mortal to sharpen our skills as we counseled people who were living on borrowed time and other adults making decisions concerning aging parents needing assistance. Little did we know that we would join that group very soon. What we thought for a month was that Jim had mild dementia that would probably last for years, was rather brain tumors, Glioblastoma--fast-growing cancer--meaning weeks or months at the most. Intentionally applying Dr. Gawande’s recommendations for Jim’s last, not years, but five weeks of life, was excellent preparation for our surprising “What’s Next”.

Dr. Gawande, the child of two physicians, shares how they made sure his father with little time left continued with purpose. He discusses the riveting story of the development of Assisted Living. The next paragraph is my paraphrased review of its beginning:

Pg. 87 Keren Brown Wilson one of the originators of concept of assisted living, built her first in Oregon in the 1980s. She was trying to create a place for her mother in order not to put her in a nursing home. She became interested in policy for the aged. As the years passed, Jessie, her mother, shifted through a series of nursing homes, near one or another of her children.  She didn’t like a single one of those places.  Meanwhile, Keren got married and her husband, a sociologist, encouraged her to continue with her schooling.  When she told her mother that she would be studying the science of aging, Jessie asked her a question that Keren says changed her life: “Why don’t you do something to help people like me.” She wanted a small place with a little kitchen and a bathroom. it would have her favorite things in it, including her cat and her unfinished projects. There would be people to help her with the things she couldn’t do without help.  In the imaginary place, she would be able to lock her door, control her heat, and have her own furniture.  No one would make her get up or got to bed. She could have privacy whenever she wanted, and no one could make her get dressed, take her medicine, or go to activities she did not like.

As Dr. Gawande advocates, our overall goal was for Jim to retain as much control, purpose and responsibility as long as feasible. Jim heard the neurosurgeon team’s prognosis and options and approved all the medical decisions. We honored what he wanted to do. The specialist asked “Do you want a slow and not feeling very well life or fast and feeling good”. Jim said he preferred fast and good and did not want treatment. He wanted to spend his last days at home with family. For ten bittersweet days our children and their spouses helped me to take care of him. He kept us in stitches with his humorous banter and demonstrated how to die with dignity with a positive outlook being assured that to be absent from life was to be present with the Lord. He had no fear.

That’s the lesson for all of us.  If we are just going through the motions of living without a greater reason than staying alive, we are cheating ourselves.  As the book, Being Mortal points out, making sure the elderly or anyone who is terminally ill is not simply being kept alive by meds and tubes but some measure of purpose is arranged, the patient will have a reason to enjoy his/her days to the last. Parting with Jim is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but knowing he was happy, involved with family right up to the last, and confident that he was going to heaven, has made life without him bearable. He’s been gone almost 6 months.

A few weeks ago, Roger e-mailed a film describing Being Mortal including an interview with Dr. Gawande counseling terminally-ill patients, which obviously inspired this blog. After watching the film, my friend, Bill wrote: “Wow…started watching this…brought up some raw emotions from 32 years ago when my dad died, and started crying. This is really good.” Click here to watch "Being Mortal" on YouTube.

Covid-19 has forced the world to scramble with what’s next for six months adjusting losses of life from the virus, isolation, shut-downs, job losses and school openings. We all want and need to be ready for what’s next. Children as well as adults benefit from looking ahead. Unfortunately, what’s best doesn’t just happen or always happen. But sometimes phenomenal surprises happen when you are out of steam and least expect and need relief the most. Years ago, I was rescued by a paperback book.

When I was 29 living in rattle-snaky, sandy, lonely, hot Verhalen, Texas (some of you may remember the Verhalen blog) struggling with whether I was okay as a person since I felt totally unacceptable because I didn’t wear jeans, makeup, or have fancy hairdos. Besides that, I didn’t enjoy Texas food--a never-heard-of vegetable, fried okra and fried squash, spicy barbecue and trying to find a taste to blackeyed peas and cornbread--their favorite dish. However, we did agree on ice cream!

My northern accent roused many eyebrows and rolled eyes. In turn, I had difficulty with their accent, too, remembering how long it took me to understand simple words like cork pronounced cark. Eventually my words lost their ings and I adopted the absolutely necessary y’all, because if you said to a group “you come back”, they thought you meant only the person you were looking at. In Chicago, they say ‘you guys’. But I never included “I’m fixing” to go, do, etc. into my dialogue. So, getting adjusted to weather, foods, customs, people and conversation meant since I was outnumbered, in order to maintain harmony, I assumed I was obligated to change who I was.

One afternoon when I was feeling my very worst, an unusual thing happened. Not another rattle snake but a paperback book, The Strong and Weak, by Paul Tournier arrived in the mail from an unknown source. That little book germinated a significant turning point for me. I inhaled the information and illustrations on personalities and received affirmation that I was normal just like God designed me. I didn’t need to nor could I change who I was. This was my first encounter with the importance of self-understanding and the legitimate differences in people as they face distress, decisions, appreciation, understanding others and more. Dr. Paul Tournier an outstanding Swiss physician, psychotherapist and theologian taught that it is through the power derived from Jesus that we are enabled to find hope and freedom from fear. And little did I know that this little paperback was planting a seed for my career in counseling, writing and using MBTI.

When Tournier’s Learn to Grow Old book came out, I purchased it for our next trip’s reading focus. We were in our late 40’s enjoying our involved and satisfying parenting, ministry, counseling and teaching. On our next trip we delved into it. This better-prepared us for retirement way down the road.  I recommend it to any of you who want to begin early laying groundwork for the maybe 20 plus years like we had. Sharing all these books not only equipped us to be on same page as we ministered, but learning together helped us understand and appreciate each other.  My Intuition contributed to research and planning ahead and Jim’s Sensing kept us practical. Jim’s head logic and my heart logic combined with our walk with the Lord provided wisdom and balance--a good team.

Books have shaped our lives providing encouragement, direction and spiritual growth. I guess that’s the reason why I write. But, lest you are wondering why I haven’t mentioned the influence the Bible has had on our lives, I assume you have picked up from the beginning that without a personal relationship with the Lord, and spending daily time praying, reading and studying the bible, our lives would have little purpose.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom. 8:38,39 (NAS)

(Jesus said) I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t fragile like the peace the world gives. So, don’t be troubled or afraid. John 14:27 (TLB)