Sure, let’s celebrate the Fourth of July. Gorge ourselves on commemorative carcinogens and empty carbs. Blow stuff up day and night. Do whatever we always do, for as long and as loud as we like. But next year, I hope some of those collective energies can be reallocated in support of my exciting holiday initiative — Dependence Day.
This proposal is not an attempt to repeal or replace our annual American patriotic noise-and-booze-fest, just a try to level the playing field. Dependence Day will be observed on the Fifth of July, with a mission to give equal time to the merits of living in, and leaning on, community — particularly as we age.
I know we’re all about limitless freedom in this country, doing what we want, when we want, without permission or approval. But toward the end of life, our treasured independence and misguided pride comes back to haunt and hurt us. Dependence Day will be a small step in fighting the social stigma of being helped.
Take an elderly couple I once knew, years ago and miles away. Besides being in their late 80s, they were frail and unsteady. Generally unwell. Visibly lonely. Silently scared of what comes next. But they had lived in the same house for 50-plus years and were determined to prove they could stay there even if it killed them. Which was always a very real danger.
They would certainly have been safer and healthier getting some help at home, and they had plenty of money to pay for it. They might even have been, dare I say it, happier in a long-term care setting that offered camaraderie, security and core services they could choose from a menu of options. But they took any such suggestion personally, as an attack on their fundamental existence and personhood.
I once induced an explosion of fury when I suggested an assistive device that might simply help with the increasingly difficult and dangerous transition from sitting to standing. A casual mention by another well-meaning friend of the merits of a nearby independent living community provoked an angry, reproving letter. So we became merely silent observers of the inevitable.
I don’t know what eventually happened to them, but I know what I wanted to say — that there’s no embarrassment in admitting limitations and soliciting help, at any age. From my perspective, all their blind quest for independence offered them was the right to be independently in pain. The right to independently prepare bad food, and the right to eat it alone. The right to be independently afraid of the future and without adequate support and guidance. The right to be perpetually resentful that being independent was so exhausting.
The myth of “independence” will continue its tyranny over aging in our society as long as we continue to gauge self-worth solely by what we’re able to do by and for ourselves. But true independence is found in making decisions that enhance quality of life, not by waging a battle to the death against the unstoppable ravages of time.
Let’s try to remember that — at least once a year, on the Fifth of July, from now on.
Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, who cobbles these pieces together from his secret lair somewhere near the scenic, wine-soaked hamlet of Walla Walla, WA. Since his debut with SNALF.com at the end of a previous century, he has continued to amuse, inform and sometimes befuddle long-term care readers worldwide.