Judson Haims: Nobody likes to be played
Special to The Aspen Times
Recently, as I was driving back to my office from a client meeting, I found myself remembering a conversation I had with my client’s husband. I couldn’t help from chuckling out loud as I recalled how he had played me like a fiddle during his last years of life — all while teaching me some of the best lessons of my life.
When I started working with this family, it was the husband who was my client. He passed away a couple years ago. It was a sad and emotional journey for me to be involved with. He was a kind and wise man. He shared with me much about his life and how he managed to stayed married and in love for more than 60 years.
What I found particularly fascinating was his insight on life and his ability to see the whole picture. Life was like a game of chess to him. He always seemed to have a plan that was well thought out and meticulously executed. As he once explained to me, his hiring me and the company to take care of him was a strategic move that would benefit his wife and children in years to come. It was not until just prior to his passing that he shared with me his reasoning for hiring us.
One day, he called my office and asked that I personally take him to a medical appointment. He also asked that I come with him to lunch afterward. While attending a medical appointment with him was not uncommon, going to lunch afterward was.
At lunch, he explained that in his early 80s he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Not knowing how much time he had left, it was his intent to put into place a plan with both short-term and long-term goals.
The short-term goals were not unique — maintaining his independence, keeping him living at home, and freeing his wife and children from having to put their lives on hold as his capacities diminished. However, his long-term goals were unique, astonishing and enlightening.
Over the next couple of hours of lunch, he unveiled to me the development of his end-game plan. His strategic thought and execution was impressive. Moreover, I couldn’t help myself from being in complete disbelief how I unknowingly fell in line with every detail of his plan.
Knowing that his wife was not cut out to be a caregiver, and that his children had other responsibilities to manage, he needed to develop a care team. This is where our services came in. We were hired to drive him to medical appointments and personal errands, prepare meals and provide medicine reminders in addition to assisting with conveying information between family and his medical providers. Above all, we were there to take the worry away from his family and attend to his every need.
His plans for me were quite different. I was put in place to become a trusted confidant. Not just to him, but to his wife and children. He knew that the only way his wife would acquiesce with allowing someone outside the family to care for her husband and become involved with personal and family matters was if he demanded it — for his own needs and peace of mind.
While I tried to be respectful and just listen, my curiosity got the best of me and I interrupted him. I had to ask why it was that I had this specific role to play. His reason blew me away.
“Because she is going to need you when I’m gone and she’d never hire someone to help her,” he said.
I sat there with a furrowed brow for what seemed like hours before he clued me in.
She had cancer. Nobody but he and the doctors knew. Knowing his wife as I did, this made perfect sense. She was a very private person and allowed very few people into her inner circle. He not only hired me for himself, but he was putting me through a screening process for his wife’s benefit. He explained that it was only by placing me in such a role would his wife ever trust me and allow me to be privy to her personal matters.
Dealing with a situation where you or a loved one becomes unable to assist with daily tasks that were once commonplace can be difficult. It’s going to happen, though. At some point we all will slow down or encounter an ailment that is going to undermine our ability to live autonomously. You need to have a plan.
While most people may not be as forward thinking as the client referred to here, developing a personal care plan is important. Here are some suggestions to assist in developing a plan:
• Start a conversation.
• Develop a plan that considers immediate and future needs.
• Consider who will be part of the care team.
• Find organizations that will support the plan and care team.
We all will need to consider what tools we can put in place to assist us in living the life we choose as we age. Be proactive. Waiting for the last minute causes unnecessary anxiety and strife.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Aspen, Basalt, and Carbondale. He is an advocate for the elderly and is available to answer questions. His contact information is http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns and 970-328-5526.
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