Joyce and I recently visited an old friend from Florida at her new home in Virginia—a "lifecare" facility, offering varying degrees of care depending on need.
Our friend's husband died, and soon after she contracted a disorder that, for all practical purposes, left her paralyzed. She didn't give up. Through rigorous physical therapy, and determination that amazed the staff, she regained her ability to walk and to care for herself. She graduated from "assisted living" status to "independent living."
She uses a walker, for fear she might fall, but—she walks.
We arrived for dinner and I stood in the dining hall looking at the legions of residents, many using walkers, many in wheelchairs, all frail.
Our friend told us about her fellow residents—that man was a general. That woman was vice president at a bank. And that one was….
I felt great sadness. Partly, I think, seeing all these people who had declined, I foresaw my own eventual decline, and its inevitability unsettled me.
"All these people," I blurted out. "All so vital once, and accomplished, and now…how do they cope?"
Not my most diplomatic moment, with our friend standing beside me, leaning on her walker. Thankfully, she didn't point out my insensitivity. Instead, she stood silently, musing. Then she spoke, and I've been thinking about it ever since, turning it over and over in my mind.
She said just one word.