buddha

I received the following letter yesterday:

Martin,

I came across your article in the Washington Post describing what it’s like to live in assisted living when you’re much younger than the average resident. My mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s just over a year ago, and she has terrible fatigue and weakness. She is 68. Just a few years ago, she was my #1 helper for my newborn daughter, active, driving, taking the bus and train from the suburbs to my home in Chicago. She has recently decided that she probably cannot continue to live on her own. She feels too weak or afraid to venture out of her apartment, and she has some in-home help and meals-on-wheels during the week.

We don’t have the means to afford assisted living over the long term, but I want to commit to paying for a year at a facility to see whether eating good food and working with others toward the goal of being in the best shape possible will enable her to live independently again. Are you aware of any assisted living arrangement for folks with Parkinson’s’ where they actually try to improve your mobility, health, and independence, and not merely try to manage your decline safely? We experienced the ugly side of skilled nursing after a fall last summer, and I am determined to do my best to keep her away from that for as long as possible.

 Thanks so much for reading. And kudos to you for being out there and speaking the truth.

I was particularly struck by the author’s desire “to commit to paying for a year at a facility to see whether eating good food and working with others toward the goal of being in the best shape possible will enable her to live independently again.”

I replied, “Save your money. We’ve not yet evolved to the standards you desire and your mother desperately needs.”

It was then I remembered a line from a Zen Buddhist scripture I would chant each morning when I was in monastic training. “The ideal and the actual, like a box all with its lid.” Loosely translated it states that our innate desire to seek perfection – whether in a monastery or the secular world – is tempered with the reality of our own humanity. But that doesn’t mean we abandon our commitment to excellence.

Eldercare, in its current iteration, is fraught with traumatic challenges. And yet the Japanese Kanji character for “tragedy” also means “opportunity.”

Ball’s in our court.