My Uncle Steve turned 94 yesterday.
I’m very happy that he’s still with us, and very proud that he has reached such an advanced old age.
We tried to bring him home from the rehabilitation center last week, but the hospice worker recommended some accommodations to the house that had to be fulfilled before he could sign off on the transfer. The major one was to remove furniture and make space for a hospital bed, which at eight feet long and four feet wide, is a big order to fill. The other was to remove any object that might cause him to trip when traveling from the bed to the bathroom.
I think these are reasonable requests. And at any rate, we have to comply in order to get him home. I wanted to go and help to clear out the space, but my uncle said no. He wants his girlfriend Sally to do it. They’ve been living in the house together for the past fifteen years.
I felt angry and frustrated that he didn’t want my help. It’s not that I feel shut out – it’s that Sally is a senior citizen herself and I am younger and can help her. I’ve come up against that wall again that I’ve dreaded and pushed against, being the headstrong individual that I am: When will I know to take over for the older generation? How will I know when it’s time to start making decisions for them?
Obviously, if my uncle is in his right mind – which he is – he can make his own decisions. But I can see so many contingencies that maybe he’s not thinking of: What if Sally strains her back? Then she can’t take care of him as planned. What if she misplaces something important that I’ll need when I have to take over his finances as Power of Attorney? What if there are records in his living room that are somehow lost and can’t be retrieved? What if she doesn’t do a good job and the hospice company won’t approve the living arrangement for him? Then he’ll have to stay in the rehabilitation center for a longer period of time at his own cost until the situation is corrected.
I’d like to be there just to make sure it’s all done correctly the first time. But his answer is “No, we can handle it.” I would hate to not step in at the right time. Or more precisely – I think it’s not good to wait until something very bad happens, and then step in to clean up a bad situation. However, I’m learning that I must abide by Uncle Steve’s wishes and become involved only as much as he wants me to be.
That is a really hard lesson for me to learn. The anxiety is eating me up. And frankly, it’s hard to control my anger. “Just let me help!” is what I keep thinking. But I have to hold my tongue.
I can’t know what Uncle Steve is thinking, but if I had to reason it out logically, I would say that he’s continuing as he always did – he’s remaining an intensely private and independent person. And I have no right to interfere with that. It probably helps him to know that he still has control of his life and posessions as he’s facing only a few more months of life due to the cancer.
All that matters is that we create a room for him that is comfortable and safe. It doesn’t matter how it gets done or who does it. This is a similar concern I felt when Camilla, my beloved dog, went blind. I had to make sure that I didn’t move any furniture or put any items down on the floor. I had to verbalize when I was getting up or moving by her so that she would know where I was at all times. And I made it a point to tell her how much I loved her every day, and how much she meant to me.
I call Uncle Steve every day. I try to maintain a normalcy for his sake, and to keep him in contact with the outside world by giving him news of the family, and news about my life. I tell him I love him every day. And I’ll visit him later this month, before Christmas.
All that matters is that he is comfortable, and that he continues to remain in control of his circumstances for as long as possible. And it matters that we all work together for his good, not our own. By that I mean – I’m learning to step back and let things happen as long as no one gets hurt. That’s a big lesson for me.
Anne Hamilton 2012