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We all want to keep our loved ones safe. We may feel guilty if they fall or if we do not immediately catch that something has changed. Too often we do not focus on what matters most: living. Living is more than being alive. To be alive is to make choices.

Your mother or father may hold their tongue when they are thinking.

“Just because my sense of time is permanently off, so that I do not know what day it is; or just because part of my short-term memory is gone so that I do not remember what I had for breakfast, or whether I had any at all; or just because I continually forget my walker and cane, you should not conclude that I do not care about where I live, or that I have no opinion about many other things that are going on around me. I may not be able to spell out for you what I want, but I can surely tell you what I do not want or what I think I do not want. I can certainly weigh in on where I want to live, and how I want to spend the rest of my life. However, my opinion may only be expressed once you have done your best to find some solution for me.”¹

Living is About Making Choices and Taking Risks

To be alive is to make choices. To be alive is also to take risks.

What if you never got to make a mistake?

What if your money was always kept for you?

What if you were no longer given a chance to do well at something?

What if you were always treated like a child?

What if your only chance to be with people who were different from you was with your own family and strangers called “personal assistants” and “health care personnel?”

What if no one called?

What if you spent days waiting for the mailman?

What if you were ignored at family gatherings?

What if anything you were allowed to do was something which required less attention from others but left you numbed you out, like being put in front of a television or a window all day?

What if anything you were allowed to do did not take into account what you want to do? Or how you could do something similar which you enjoy?

What if you never got to make a decision?

What if you never even once got to eat a piece of pie or have salt in your soup?

What if you never got to go outside because the last time you went you fell down or got lost?

What if you took the wrong bus once so are never allowed to take another one by yourself?

What if you had no privacy?

What if you were moved to a strange place, surrounded by strangers?

What if you had to give up your natural habits and your personal routine and follow a schedule set by someone else for their convenience?

What if you were able to buy groceries but were not allowed to because you sometimes forgot some, even if they were on the list?

What if you spent three hours just waiting for someone?

What if the only “risky” behavior you could do was “act out” or “be difficult?’

What if you never got a second chance?

Is this life?

Is it a life anyone would want to live?²

Sometimes if we truly care for people, we must do a little less giving. We must let them stretch the boundaries. If they stretch a little too far and are hurt, that is okay, or at least it is better than if they had never tried at all. No one grows, no one lives without choice and risk.

¹ This appears in Allen S. Teel’s wonderful book Alone and Invisible No More: How Grass Roots Community Action and 21st Century Technologies Can Empower Elders to Stay in Their Homes and Lead Healthier, Happier Lives (White River Junction, Vermont: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2011), pages 156-157.
² I am indebted for several items on this list to the father of a disabled son, who contributed them to Dorothy Sauber’s Changing Expectations/Planning for the Future: A Parent Advocacy Manual (Minneapolis: Association for Retarded Citizens of Minnesota, 1989.)


Elder law attorney, Terry Garrett, is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is an Approved Guardianship Attorney. She assists people in elder law, estate and special needs planning, guardianship and settling estates. She graduated with honors from Cornell University. She was on the Dean’s List at Wharton Business School. She earned her J.D. at Columbia Law School, receiving the Parker Award and a Mellon Fellowship.


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