2013 — another opportunity to do the right thing

W elcome to the first Sunday of the New Year – 2013! Who knew? 2013? A brand new Sunday in a brand new year and another opportunity to try to “get it right” – to do the “right thing” – to end each day feeling OK about ourselves, because we did do the right thing.

And may we all succeed. May we all decide to jettison fear and pessimism and divisiveness and simply do the “right thing.”

And NO: As tempting as it is, I’m not going to assault us all with pretty words about high-minded New Year’s resolutions, although I reserve the right to come back to that at another time; no, I’m not going to do that because you, once again, have done a much better job of writing this column than I could ever do.

A couple of weeks ago I went on about “help” and dignity and negotiation — because help only helps if it helps. And if it doesn’t help, maybe what it does do is make us (or somebody we purport to love) “less than.” Here’s what a thoughtful reader took the time to say:

“Dear Mr. Harvey,

I have been very appreciative of your column in the past, but when I read this morning’s article, it really struck home for me. My husband and I are both 72 years old, and are well able to manage our lives — better than many younger people, I believe. Yet even our children, who admire our ability to remain active and involved in our community, are not immune to offering suggestions for how we might take better care of ourselves. My response, and probably my husband’s as well, is frequently impatient and somewhat resentful. Just as you described, inspite of what we know is their best intentions, we respond negatively; we have been made to feel “less than”….

Unfortunately, I myself have not always been as sensitive to the feelings of others as I should have been. I have an all-too-clear recollection of my grandmother’s appointment with a doctor at Virginia Mason Clinic in Seattle years ago. I was only there in the role of chauffeur, but the doctor addressed ALL of his comments to me, leaving her as a bystander in a discussion of her medical issues. The thing I most regret is that I was proud that the doctor saw me as a competent and responsible person. I had no thought for how my grandmother regarded his dismissive treatment of her because I was so pleased that he valued my opinions! I never talked to her about the incident, and I still regret that.

There may be some “ego” element involved in the offers of help. In some ways, it could be considered a role reversal. Perhaps our children are pleased to “turn the tables,” after years of accepting us as authority figures. I know it isn’t entirely bad for them to be concerned, but sensitivity and empathy are crucial.

Another concern (not mentioned in today’s article, but many times before) which may lead the younger generation to feel it necessary to “help” is the possibility of Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia creeping unnoticed into our lives, and requiring intervention, in spite of our wishes. This is a very scary possibility, and one that can’t be ignored. Already, “senior moments” are no longer as amusing as they used to be. Instead, they are cause for evaluation, to be sure that we are still competent, still able to be in charge. What if there actually is a loss of ability to cope, and we are blindly (or willfully) acting as though nothing has changed? That poses a real dilemma for our children.

So…. I think another “takeaway” message for your column, besides “negotiation,” should be EMPATHY. We often tend to be impatient when a decision which seems to be clearly in the best interest of a loved one encounters resistance. I think it helps to step back a little, to try to see things from that individual’s perspective, to feel what it would mean for that person. But … I don’t need to tell you this, since it is obvious that you are a very kind and caring person, with an abundance of empathy!”

Wow! Sound familiar? Me, too, as much as I’d rather avoid admitting it. Sure, I’d prefer “Mark” to “Mr. Harvey,” and sure, I think we’d all agree that I’m full of something — I’d just like to hope that it’s “empathy.” But the reader (the writer!) was being respectful, and I appreciate that.

Respect. Empathy. Negotiation. And putting “help” in quotation marks.

Remember up above where I said that I wasn’t going to assault us all with pretty words about high-minded New Year’s resolutions? I lied, because there they are.

2013 – Another opportunity to do the right thing.

Mark Harvey is the director of Senior Information and Assistance for Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He can be reached at harvemb@dshs.wa.gov or 532-0520 in Aberdeen, (360) 942-2177 in Raymond or (360) 642-3634. FACEBOOK: Olympic Area Agency on Aging-Information & Assistance.