Many families get together at Thanksgiving and Christmas. As a result, we as an elder care law firm get a lot of calls because adult children are “shocked” when they visit their parents during the holidays. The following is an article I wrote in 2014, but bears repeating now.
It is sure easy to marginalize older or chronically ill people. Some will actually talk around an elderly or chronically ill person sitting in the room. To my surprise and happiness, I continued to learn from my grandmother up until she passed away.
I have an old dog named Star. She is kind of crippled up, both front shoulders being arthritic and bad. But she is still very special to me. She has a place on our couch right next to me. If one of the other dogs sit by me on the couch, Star engages in a stare down between me and the other dog until I take action to clear a spot for her.
From the time that she was a pup, Star was a natural hunter. I have not been around a lot of hunting dogs, but I was astonished. When she was only about a year old I took her dove hunting to my home town of Bushton, Kansas. To the astonishment of everyone there, Star would look to the skies, hear a shot, and if the bird fell, she would go fetch it. She would bring it back and drop it at my feet – all without training.
Then life got in the way. Between raising kids, work, and social commitments, my time to go back to Bushton seemed to get away from me. Consequently, sometimes Star and I would go several years without actually going hunting.
Nevertheless, every time I would try to go out in the country or even go deer hunting or something of that sort, Star would realize it. She would begin following me around the house with either a boot, sock, or glove in her mouth as if to say “don’t forget about this and don’t forget about me”.
This year, I had made a commitment with my friends from Bushton that we would get together on September 1 again for a dove hunt. The weather had not been particularly agreeable for a good hunt. My plan was not to take any of my dogs with me, but just go to Bushton to be social. Star figured it out and began following me around with my boot in her mouth. Though she was very gimpy, I decided I would at least let her go and sit by me while I hunted.
When we got to the hunting location the grass was very tall and it was difficult for her to get around. We ended up moving to a different location where there was short grass and a pond.
Star went over and just laid in the water, cooling herself.
Suddenly the birds started coming in. Star scrambled over beside me. I decided I would try to shoot the birds in such a way that she could walk over and pick them up in the short grass.
Sure enough I failed: my very first shot the bird landed in the pond. Despite her thirteen years, and bad shoulders, Star dove into the water. Watching were my friends and their wives. It got very quiet as Star swam all the way out to the middle of the pond, got the bird in her mouth, and swam to shore. She struggled to get out of the water. Her tail started wagging and she dropped the bird at my feet. Suddenly everyone was clapping for her. More tail wagging.
In the next couple of hours she repeated this process fourteen more times, sometimes swimming out into the pond, other times returning from the grass. After each retrieval, she would stand on the bank looking to the clouds for more birds, but I could see both of her front legs were trembling from exhaustion.
The hour and a half home was very quiet. Star was sound asleep. The next day she was still tired. She struggled to get up on the couch, laid her head in my lap and fell asleep.
Within just a few days I caught her in my closet sniffing my boots. I could tell she was rejuvenated and ready to go again.
Most everyone would say Star was too old to hunt; that it would be too hard on her; that she should retire. But I am certain that Star enjoyed that hunt almost as much as I did.
I know that it is difficult when we’re helping take care of someone and we feel like they are growing older and frail. We want to protect them. Sometimes we may even marginalize that person – making decisions without considering what that person really wants.
The other day I was in one of our local nursing homes. I stopped by and talked with one of my clients who was watching, of all things, a hunting show. We had a wonderful conversation and frankly it was a conversation that he and I could have had twenty years ago when he and I rode bicycles together. He gave me some advice regarding some soreness that I was having in my neck related to bike riding. Though he is much older, he is “still there”.
If you are dealing with someone that is older or chronically ill, let them “hunt” as long as they can. Not only will it bring great joy to them, it may bring great joy to you as well.