Going for the Gusto in Life
By Jean Donahue
father was a very wise man. He was far from perfect, but I learned so much
from him. One of the lessons I learned was something I didnít even
realize for many years. It helped me through many trials Ė especially
taking care of my parents their last years.
Dad was about 80, he began to wonder if he should continue to go south in
the winter and north in the summer. He didnít say anything to me, but I
noticed that he seemed to be carrying a heavy weight. I knew that many of
the friends he had known for years had died, and I attributed his manner
to that loss. What I didnít know was that he was thinking about the end
of his life.
year he did go south for the winter. He watched as the friends he had
enjoyed lived their life. He watched as some died in their winter homes.
He did a lot of thinking. When he came home in the spring he was a changed
man. He was happy and wanted to do things while he was here. He took me
and my kids to things he had stopped attending. He wanted to show them all
the fun things he enjoyed. He had that lust for life that he was missing
for a year or two. In fact, it wasnít for a couple years that he told me
about that experience.
said that he realized he was getting older and he wondered if he should
continue doing the things he wanted to do. He didnít know if he should
continue to travel. He said he watched the people in the retirement area
he stayed in and saw them enjoying life. He saw them making plans for the
there were the other people who had decided their life was coming to an
end, even though they were healthy, and they were very depressed. They
were afraid to do anything. They were afraid to leave a certain doctor or
medical clinic. They were afraid to go golfing. They had basically given
up on living. Once they sat down and quit living, it wasnít long before
they actually died. The people that planned for the future seemed to live
much longer and enjoy life more.
decided that he couldnít decide anything simply because of his age. He
decided he was going to do things he enjoyed and plan for the future. When
something did happen, he would have to change those plans, but he was
going to do everything he could to live a long and happy life. He decided
he wasnít going to sit down and wait to die. Dad lived until he was 94,
and Mom lived until she was 90 Ė and they didnít need my full-time
help until four years before they died.
the time came for me to take care of my parents, I thought about what Dad
had said. I decided I didnít want either one of them to just sit down
and wait to die. I wanted them to enjoy the rest of their life as much as
possible. What I didnít know was how I was going to do that. I didnít
know how hard it would be for them Ė or me.
first two years we traveled, so it was fairly easy for all of us to be
excited about life. Mom had Alzheimerís disease and had progressed to
the point of being a little child. She could have been content staying
home. Dad was a different story. He wanted to continue doing the things he
had always enjoyed. Almost everyone told him (and me) that he should stay
home and stop traveling. At least, that he should not go so far away from
home. But he didnít want to, and his words kept coming back to my mind.
He didnít want to just sit down and wait to die. I knew that if it were
me, I wouldnít want to either.
a caregiver, there were other times when I remembered what Dad said. The
last two years we were at home because Dad couldnít travel any longer.
It would have been so easy to not take them to senior dinners. It would
have been so easy to let them stay in the house all the time. It would
have been so easy to not do everything I could to help them get over the
illnesses, such as pneumonia. It would have been so easy to turn on the
television and not do anything to improve their life Ė or mine. I
couldnít do that, though. All of us needed to get out and enjoy life as
much as possible. They may have been old, but they were still alive. They
needed to enjoy life as much as possible Ė and I needed for them enjoy
life as much as possible. I felt like a mother taking care of her small
children again. I needed to nourish them and improve their lives as much
there were the times I applied those words to myself. I knew why I was
taking care of my parents and I knew the outcome. It was so frustrating
and depressing to sit there and wait for them to die. I loved them so much
and I hated watching them suffer. Thatís when I remembered Dadís
words. Thatís when I decided to find something to do that I could enjoy.
It was absolutely necessary for my mental health.
one thing I hope you get out of this story is that you need to take care
of yourself as well as your loved one. Donít just sit down and wait for
your loved one to die because it will hurt you more than you know. If you
do, you will sit down and lose interest in living Ė and you need to lead
a life doing something you enjoy. You know as well as I do that your loved
one would not want your life to end when their life ends. Remember when
they were not sick? Thatís the attitude you should remember. They would
prefer to be living an interesting life, and they would prefer that you
live an interesting life.