Al's grandfather has had some health issues in the last month, and it has been mentioned that he may not have much time left. We can never be sure how long we will have, since we are not marked with an expiration date, but some people clearly have a better idea when their time is coming that others. I have experienced the death of my grandparents, and my parents had to make decisions regarding their end of life care. They did so compassionately, even in a very difficult time. In Al's grandfather's case, he is fully mentally capable to make his own decisions. He will have to think about issues like life-prolonging treatments, and when to say enough is enough. How does someone prepare for the end of life?
I learned about Erikson's stages of psychosocial development in psych 101, I think, and have revisited it at other times in training. He describes devlopment through an entire life, not just up to adulthood. I'll let you Google the stages, they are really interesting if you haven't read them in a while, but I'll remind you that the last stage is Ego Integrity vs. Despair. This is given an age range of 65 and up. This stage represents the looking back phase. The theory is, we will either recognize that we have lived a full and rich life and be content, or regret mistakes or things not accomplished and feel despair. Really a lesson for our whole life, isn't it? I think every day we can reflect on this: am I making choices to enrich my life, or will I regret these decisions (or lack of decisions) tomorrow?
I have met seniors in both categories, but I have met younger people struggling with these same issues. As we age, we know our time is growing shorter, but when we're younger it feels as if there will always be tomorrow to change. Change careers, become a better person, spend time with our loved ones or doing things we love, there will always be more time. But that may not be true! If I were told I had only x amount of days left, I believe I would make some changes in the way I'm living. But why am I not making those changes NOW? Why aren't you?
I had a fairly in depth conversation with Al's grandfather at Easter. He talked about his health, how difficult it is to grow old and not be able to do the things you'd like to anymore. But he also talked about his family, how proud he is of everyone, and that he has had a good life. I hope to be able to reflect in a similar fashion when I get to 87. How can we live so we grow more contented, to face our final years with integrity, knowing we have fulfilled our purpose?