Remember the old "B.C." comics? (You have to be a certain age to know what I'm talking about.) One of the themes had a character climbing a mountain to ask the wise man on the top about the meaning of life. Presumably, after he was told, he would go back down to live his life better. The truth was, often he went back down bemused at the answer.
This is not that.
We are not seeking the meaning of life, but what gives life meaning.
"Meaning--significance; heart; hope; import; value; purpose; reflection; sacred." 1
The domain of meaning is the one I have the most difficultly with. What gives life meaning? Like a butterfly, it's hard to catch.
Although the specifics are different for everyone, there is a common theme. My life has meaning when I feel I am important. I can contribute. What I do, and more importantly, who I am, makes a difference.
I hear frequently, "I'm no use any more. I can't______________(fill in the blank) or ___________(more blanks) and I'm not good for anything." Our challenge with the elderly is to turn the focus away from their losses, which they all have, to their gains. What has been added to their lives in their many years of living? What wisdom have they gained? What wonderful stories of their lives can they share? What activities which they enjoyed are still possible in some form?
This domain is intimately connected with several others. When my domain of identity is intact, I am freed to find meaning in my life. When I am feeling connected, "Meaning is generated because of the caring relationships we have nurtured with one another." 1
I see it every day.
I am writing this at my desk on lunch hour. Outside the lounge where I sit, a man is working on the patio with a broom and a garbage can. When he is finished, my patio will be spotless, with every leaf and drooping flower picked up or picked off, and his domain of meaning will be full.
Down the hall, two ladies are returning from lunch. One has had a rough few days with anxiety, and the other is walking her to her room and chatting with her, making sure she is feeling connected and safe. Meaning.
In a few minutes, a group of ladies will come to my lounge to knit squares, which will be put together into afghans and sold to staff. The money will help with the renovations in our neighbourhood.
In our mission to be care partners, we must remember we are just that. Partners, not givers. It is so easy to default to giving and doing for someone who needs a lot of support. If we aren't careful with that, however, we will steal from them independence, and rob them of meaning.
Next week: The domain of joy. And lots of wonderful, joyful stories from our camping trip, where the average age was 91!