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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Lessons from the Dogs: How do YOU want to be remembered?

Old dogs teach us how to treat old people more humanely.
Lizzie's Uncle Atlas is about 93 years old in dog years.

Lizzie never knew Uncle Atlas in his prime, decades ago when he was a star athlete and an award-winning scholar. She never knew him when he was strong, agile, and an imposing figure. She wasn't even born then.

She knows him only as Old Uncle Atlas...a bit of a stumbly fuddy-duddy who spends a good deal of his time looking confused. His coordination and balance are off, he can't hear well, and he repeats himself a lot. He's a bit crotchety and stubborn in his elder years too. He dribbles his food when he eats, and sometimes he dribbles a bit from the other end too.

But she nonetheless shows respect to him. She is careful around him, and very patient. When family members must loudly repeat what they say to him, and use wild body language to get him to understand, she takes it in stride. She realizes the rules are bent and sometimes broken for him.

To Lizzie, Uncle Atlas is just an old dog. That's how she will remember him when he is gone.

It's not easy, but I'm pledging to Atlas now, while he's still with us, that I will remember him not as he is today, but as he was when he was in his prime...when he was “large and in charge,” a credit to his breed, a strong and confident winner, an athlete who had the world by the tail.

We all have elderly people who are in our family or social circles. When “distinguished” evolves into “dementia,” we frequently sigh and roll our eyes and wait for the end, when that old person is no longer an inconvenience to those of us who are still in our “prime.” We will speak of them patronizingly as “Old Uncle Joe,” “Old Gramps,” or “Old Aunt Martha.” And that's how we often remember them.

But they don't want to be remembered that way, any more than YOU want to be remembered as a stooped, gray-haired grump! Make an effort today to learn how these people would like to be remembered. Listen to their stories, do some research, and ask them about the greatest days of their lives. And pledge to them that you will remember them the way they choose to remember themselves!

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