It may be necessary, but sometimes nothing is the hardest thing to do

I thought we were done. I was wrong, which isn’t exactly uncharted territory for me. I thought I’d get off my preachy little high horse about “negotiation” and “respect” and “safety,” so we could all move onto more universally entertaining topics, like “what’s new with Medicare today.”

I was wrong. I’m not done because you’re not done. Here’s what I heard from a reader (who also happens to be a friend) who also happens to be a thoughtful, caring man:

“…Negotiations — empathy — negotiations — refusal — non-acceptance (of help) — Then what? How does one cope with ‘that’ — until acceptance of ‘recognition of some changes happening’ is displayed, and (hopefully) then agrees to a visit to the Dr.?”

Good question. I wish I had an equally good answer.

In my experience, negotiation, respect, empathy and a willingness to take “baby steps” (a little help, then maybe a little more — you get it) works pretty well, most of the time, but not always. Because nothing is “always;” sometimes, you (me, whomever) can do everything “right,” and an elder just refuses to accept any help or “… visit the doctor” or whatever.

Maybe it’s fear — we’ve been there. Maybe it’s stubbornness. Maybe it’s saving for a rainy day, when it’s really just cheap. Maybe it’s ignorance. Maybe it’s denial (“I’m not old!”). Maybe it’s control or greed or stupidity.

Now, if it’s honestly dementia/memory loss or a diagnosable mental health condition, those are game-changers, and we’re in a whole, different ballpark, but often, it isn’t. It’s some combination of those things I listed above, but the question is still the question: What then?

When we’ve done the best we can, and we’ve done the best we can to do it all “right” and we’ve continued to care and respect and help and try to keep the crises to a minimum and … sometimes, here’s the only thing left to do:


Yes, I said, “Nothing.”

What can we do? Force somebody to accept that help or go to that doctor? How? “Somebody should do something!” OK — Who? How? The fact is that, legally, failing mental “incapacitation,” they can do what they want which, sometimes, is nothing.

So, what can we do? Right: Nothing. All we can do is accept that the situation is a trainwreck and the crisis will come. We can see it coming, but there’s nothing we can do to stop it. Yelling and fighting and arguing and guilt-tripping and subtle intimidation won’t work — don’t work.

Sometimes, all we can do is accept that the trainwreck will happen.

“Wait a minute, Harvey! You’re telling me to just say ‘oh, well’ and allow someone I care about to fail? Or hurt themselves? Or even, die?”

No, I’m not — again, what do you s’pose I do all day long? What I am telling you is that, sometimes, there’s just nothing more to be done, so all we can do is wait for the trainwreck.

I’m telling you to never give up. I’m telling you to never allow the conflict between you to escalate to the point of alienation. I’m telling you to keep on “being there,” when you’re long-past wanting to have anything to do with it. I’m telling you to keep trying.

I’m also telling you to accept the fact that each of us has a right to run our lives, no matter how poorly we do it, and no matter how obvious it may be to others that we’re about to crash, and if you care to stop and think about it, every single one of us can see ourselves in that scenario.

Love is a funny thing. Love wants to protect and help and save. Love wants to…nurture. And love wants to stop the bad stuff and make it all better — but, sometimes, love isn’t enough.

And, sometimes, love has to just wait in the wings, so it will be there later, when “it” happens.

“Nothing” is the hardest thing there is to do.

Long ago and far way, I listened to a loving, caring daughter try everything she could think of to convince her dad to come live with her and her family, who really wanted him to be there. He insisted on continuing — alone — in the family tri-level, where he’d been for 40+ years and had fallen several times. The future looked, decidedly, bleak.

“But, Dad,” she said, “…you could die there!”

“That’s right,” Dad said. “Where do you want to die?”

Sometimes, “nothing” is the hardest thing to do.

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.