Without purpose, life is flat. It's a series of obligations, where we trudge through each cold, grey day. Nothing matters.
Purpose brings colour and sparkle. It makes what we do in a day matter. Purpose is a job we love, relationships that matter, and making a difference.
For someone with dementia, or who is elderly and physically frail, purpose can be elusive. It's radical in our society to even imagine that elders can have purpose. Should have purpose.
The P in care partner is for purpose.
Think of these scenarios:
George was a great husband and father. He took his boys to innumerable hockey practices and provided for his family. He took his wife out dancing and took the family on vacations. He was the salt of the earth. Now George is elderly. He has dementia, and describes the workings of his mind as being "cloudy." He is incontinent and in a wheelchair. His gravelly voice is difficult to understand.
How do you help George find purpose?
Flo was a strong, independent woman all her life. Shegave her life serving others, but on her terms. Now, her body betrays her every day. She can no longer walk and lives in chronic pain. It galls her every time she has to ask for help, which happens several times a day. She is sinking into depression, and doesn't understand why God doesn't take her home.
Where is the purpose for Flo?
In their marriage, Pat was the strong one. A woman who spent her life being in change, she was caregiver for her husband for over a year as dementia changed the man she knew. She was brave and capable. Then came the day she moved him into long term care. A few weeks later, she was distressed to find her husband was completely happy in his new situation. He seemed to enjoy the freedom of being on his own, and it shook everything she understood about their marriage. Pat no longer understood her role and she loundered as she looked for purpose.
How can we help Pat tofind her way?
Purpose is both individualand elusive. It involves knowing the person well, but understanding that what may have been important a few years ago may not be what makes life purposeful now.
As care partners, helping your loved one find their purpose might be the most important journey you take. Purpose involves helping the person find what makes them feel valued.
Here are some statements that lead to purpose:
"I really enjoy it when we ________________."
"I've never been toParis. What did you like about it?"
"I need to ask youropinion about_________."
"I just love spendingtime with you. You teach me so much."
"Could we go for awalk together? I really love to spend time with you."
"I really need yourhelp with___________."
Elderhood is not a time tobe constantly served. It's not a time to lay on your bed and wait for the end. Each elder has something to offer. A sense of purpose.