He is fighting against time. Time is winning. Bad knees, a heart problem, hearing aids, Parkinson’s. He is losing physical strength as he ages and this means a loss of control. He has relied on control all his life.
He started two well-known businesses and then, after selling them upon retirement, mentored young entrepreneurs. They adored him and he reveled in their adoration. Success was his goal in every area of his life and he thought he had achieved it. He believed in himself and trusted his abilities to perform at the highest levels in both his professional life and his personal life.
In all this, he performed a great sleight of hand on himself, the perception that he was in control of everything. Now time has found out his trick and revealed it to him. He is not able to control everything. It is an incredible shock. He is angry about this revelation and tells everyone he knows, “Don’t ever get old, it is terrible.”
As he faces this loss of control, his anxiety increases. And it increases in direct proportion to the shame he feels about his weakness. Others are doing tasks that he previously mastered with ease because he cannot accomplish them efficiently, if at all. When they don’t do things to his satisfaction, he tries to take back control by telling them what to do. His family struggles to balance respect for him as a man with the need to do things for him. This is frustrating, especially when he resorts to bullying them, and they sometimes find impatience wins out over graciousness.
As his knees continue to limit him and his Parkinson’s progresses, he will soon be unable to perform some of life’s most basic tasks: going up and down stairs, buttoning buttons, holding a fork (or even a spoonful) of peas. The wife he has dominated all of their married years will soon be feeding him and helping him dress. She will go places his knees won’t allow him to go. His ability to control everything in his life will give way to the need to ask for her help.
Family members dread the drumbeat of the march toward dependence. They also dread the ungracious way he will continue gnashing his teeth against time’s ultimate control. They will work hard to respect his wishes and will try to be kind, even in the face of his impatience and anger.
They ask themselves the obvious questions that every adult child must contemplate when faced with an aging parent: When will it be time to take away the car keys? How quickly will the Parkinson’s progress? How long will his wife be able to care for him as he declines? And the ultimate question: When he and his wife can no longer manage his care, do they care for him in their own homes or will a nursing home be in his future?
He asks himself these same questions. They terrify him. He is unable to verbalize them for fear that he will hasten the time when he is no longer able to function on his own.
He does not know how to process this ultimate loss and so every day he struggles with Time, feeling frustration at his weakness, trying to find any way around the truth he must finally see: that he never had the ultimate control he thought he had.
This is a cautionary tale for us all. So, may we gracious and accepting of Time as he walks us to the end of our lives. May we embrace each moment of our lives and may we savor family, friends and the stages of life because we do not know how long we may have until Time tips his hand to show us the trick he has up his sleeve: that he has control and we do not.
Photo credit: Ben White Unsplash