We work with all kinds of situations: families who get along with each other, and families who don't agree on anything; only children trying to navigate their aging parents' care, and older adults with no extended family at all; friends helping neighbors, and grandchildren watching over their grandparents. No matter what kind of scenario we walk into, one thing remains constant. The more people realize that they, too, will one day be facing these decisions and this journey, the less stress and resentment will build.
Empathy is an elusive animal. I have difficulty harnessing it with my own mother. It seems to slip right out of my grasp just when I need it most. As a bit of back story, when my mom fell and had to have hip replacement surgery, requiring a walker or cane to be used at all times, we outfitted her with a medical alert device. Anything we tried in terms of her actually wearing the pendant irritated her skin, so we compromised by tying the pendant onto her walker. It was going to be right there with her almost all the time, right?
Recently, I walked into my mother's house through the kitchen door, like I always do. Beside the refrigerator sat the walker, with alert pendant snugly attached. I could hear my mother's voice and realized she was on the telephone. AT THE OTHER END OF A RANCH STYLE HOME. So what do I do? I promptly turn into everyone's most hated school principal and ask her what the heck she thinks she is doing.
Now, we have had the discussion ad nauseum about independence and safety and smart decisions. I have thrown up my hands numerous times and wondered if anything I said would ever have an impact. But, as my siblings have learned more quickly than I, there is a point when we have to let go, when we have to put on our mom's sensible shoes and remember she has made it to 94.5 years, in large degree due to her own stamina and good decision-making.
Empathy is what allows us to both commiserate with and prop up family members who are struggling with their loved one's care. It is what makes us cry with a daughter who has always been a daddy's girl as she realizes she is now the parent figure. It is what allows us to see the humor when the tiny grandmother is still able to put her grown man of a grandson in his place every now and then. It is what we all need if we are to navigate this trail of transitions successfully together.
Even as I struggle to embrace empathy myself, I implore everyone I know to slip on someone else's shoes today and try to make them fit, if only for a short time. The steps may be halting and uncertain, but the destination is worth it.