Keeping Mom safe often involves calculated risk, tough choices

I n a couple of days it will be 2013, and that’s about as “current” as I feel like being. What I feel like doing is looking back to what I said last week, because that’s what a lot of you have felt like doing. Good, let’s do it.

Last week I went on about “help” — Dignity and respect — And negotiation.

I went on about how we often go out and do all kinds of stuff for “Mom” (or whomever) because we love her (Really!) and we want her to be “safe” (Really!), but we neglect to negotiate that “help” with her, so “help” becomes part of the problem and she starts acting “less than” and blah blah blah. For today, the operative word is “safe.”

I’ve heard from a number of you on the subject. Thank you. And more than one of you keyed in on that word — safe; You really do want Mom to be safe and she isn’t safe now, living where she’s living or the way she’s living or … And you’re probably right.

I’m not about to suggest that we stop caring about whether Mom is safe. That’s just stupid, and since we call this little column “Help Line,” not “Stupid Line,” I think we can safely dispense with that, but I also think there’s something worth considering – something that might “flavor” the conversation.

Tell me the last time you, or anybody you know, was “safe.” You weren’t “safe” the day you got here! Hopefully, you were welcomed and cleaned up and fed and cuddled and kept warm and hovered-over by any number of very protective big people, but were you absolutely “safe?” No, you weren’t.

Some bad medical thing could have happened or somebody could have dropped you or there could have been an earthquake or a meteor shower … Unlikely, I agree, but possible; so, were you “safe?” No — you were just safer than you might have been.

Safer — not “safe.”

And if most of us stop and really think about, that’s the way it’s been all of our lives, because “safe” is a relative thing.

Now, I’m not talking about reclusive billionaires with two 2-long fingernails and a battalion of underlings singularly dedicated to killing germs, nor am I talking about teenagers, who are often incapable of discerning the difference between “safe” and a pizza. And I’m certainly not talking about anyone with dementia/Alzheimer’s or any other brain-impacting condition (although, “dignity” and “respect” will go a long way toward pre-empting an unpleasant “push back”) – I’m talking about most of us, mostly “normal,” most of the time, where “safe” is a relative thing.

We’ve spent our lives making decisions, making choices, taking some chances – calculated risks; often, we’ve done alright or gotten by. Sometimes, we’ve paid a price. But we made choices about what we were or weren’t willing to live with — calculated risks – because it/them were worth it to us.

Yes, I know all too well how often we’ve made mistakes that we’ll regret to the end of our days. All I have to do to know that is go look in a mirror. But, that’s what we did and it’s still what we do: We make our choices and we take our chances. It’s just the nature of the planet.

So, why is it that when some of us turn some magic age or our hair changes color on its own or we have a limp or whatever, we’re suddenly required to be “safe?” When did we forfeit the right (and the curse) to make decisions about our “safety,” regardless of how extraordinarily idiotic they may be?

We didn’t; other people just decided we did.

Here’s an example that I’ve used before, because I know it’s true because I lived it: Mom is a bit overweight and has severe arthritis, which bends her over; thus, getting up and down from chairs, sofas and beds is a bit more “exciting” than she might like it to be. Mom also has two small, very overweight dogs who adore her and sleep at her feet, so every time she gets up, two small, fat dogs think, “Party time!” And are all over the place! Running and jumping and tail-chasing and…

Might Mom trip over one of these manic little critters and bust her you-know-what? Or lie there for God-only-knows how long, hoping somebody will come to help? Yes. Absolutely.

Then get rid of the **** dogs, right? Then, she’ll be safe!

Well, OK, but those two fat little yappers are what give purpose and meaning to her days — a reason to get up in the morning. And they’re who keep her company long after you’ve gone back to your own busy life to be busy. They’re who’s there; so, now, in the name of “safety,” we’ll eliminate the risk.

And her “reason” and her purpose and her company. Gee thanks for making me “safe.”

Calculated risks. We make choices.

Look around, wherever you are – Are you safe? Could you be safer? Probably. Is it worth it to you? Why not?

Oh, sure, I know: We could all come up with a million examples and scenarios and debate the common sense of this vs. that; and No, I don’t think there’s any harm in advocating with Mom to have the washing machine moved upstairs in order to avoid those way-too-steep, piece-of-crap stairs to the basement, because, sometimes, she’ll say, “YES!” – Or, at least, “OK”…

But it is, after all, up to her – Isn’t it? Or is it up to you? Or me? Or us? Because, if it’s up to us, we’ll go do the “right thing,” which could, soon enough, become the “wrong thing” as we watch Mom begin to become someone else — someone other than she used to be: Weak, frightened, listless and lifeless — but safe.

The spirit is much more fragile than that old hip bone will ever be.

So, I’ll say it again: Take the word “negotiation” and have it tattooed on your heart, then pray that the people who love you will do the same.

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