After recent health set-backs and a borderline hospice evaluation, my mom has had a slight rebound. She is on course to celebrate her 75th birthday next week. Somehow Mom found the energy to outlive her original diagnosis and make a winter comeback. We’re now buying candles and silly hats for a party.
Birthdays are strange when you’re caring for someone with advancing illness. They may be more complex when the illness is dementia, since our loved ones lose ground so gradually. But I’m sure these celebrations are hard for families caring for someone with cancer or another excruciating disease. You hate seeing a person suffer so much; their quality of life declines in a million tiny ways. Yet, watching them find the strength and dignity to live through terrible problems brings some weird sense of achievement.
I get the opposite reaction from another person I know. He keeps saying he’d like his life to end when he’s 70 years old — he’s perfectly healthy, by the way. But he doesn’t like watching his mom and dad go to the doctor all the time to manage chronic illnesses. He hates that fact that they don’t seem as happy as they once did. I can’t share this attitude. I get so much pleasure from small things in life. I love morning coffee and the sight of deer on my lawn. I’m delighted by the sounds of children playing in the snow and the shifting December light that makes everything seem mysterious.
I don’t know when the aches and pains of aging begin to trump small daily pleasures. It probably depends a lot on how you manage your health as you approach the golden years. But even with great care, your destiny is subject to many random influences. My mom took a walk every day and ate very nutritious food. She didn’t smoke or drink and never had diabetes. Then one day the doorbell rang and dementia arrived! The devastating news was very unexpected.
None of us get to choose the circumstances of our arrival or departure from life. You just need to pack your toolbox and be prepared to work with whatever fate brings. In the past three weeks I’ve gone from morbid speculation to buying confetti and birthday candles. I just keep looking for the silver lining. Here’s hoping you find silver linings among your holiday gifts!