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When Friends Slow Down

My wife and I have two dogs and a neighbor dog who hangs around quite a bit. Each day either my wife or I or both of us take the dogs for a walk, once in the morning and once in the evening. Generally, when we go on vacation, we try to take them with us.


The oldest of the dogs, Kiah, has been with us about 10 years, though she's probably 12 or 13 years old. We "inherited" her from my youngest son.


When we first started doing our walks with the dogs, Kiah was young. We had to keep our eye on her because she would run out ahead of us. Through the years, the running out ahead of us got to be not so far. Eventually she walked with us. Over time, she began dropping behind and has figured out shortcuts so that she doesn't have to go the whole route but can still smell her favorite places.


Recently I was able to do a solo trip to Colorado and took all three dogs. We went on a long three-hour hike. Several times I would have to wait on Kiah to catch up. Near the end of the hike, I could tell she was quite exhausted. We made it to the car, and within a few minutes, all three dogs were asleep.


The next day, Kiah was just as excited about a walk, though she was slower in that process.


I think one of the difficult things about growing older is when we have a friend, a parent, a spouse, or others in our lives that begin slowing down. Indeed, we slow down as well. And many times, it's painful to see that.


I recall when I moved my grandmother from Fort Worth, Texas, to Hays, Kansas. I was so excited that I was for the first time in my life going to be able to live in the same town with my grandmother. I had great plans: We would go to church every Sunday. We could have family over for dinner and let my grandmother sit at the head of the table. I would get to show her a wheat harvest. I could show her the office where I work and show off the town and state that I love so much.


When I moved her to Kansas, she was 92 years of age. What I didn't plan on was that my grandmother had slowed down a lot more than I realized. She found it was much easier to go to the church service in the assisted living facility, than to go through all the work of getting dressed, getting in a car, sitting in a church, and coming home exhausted. She enjoyed us coming over to the assisted living facility to eat with her, rather than having to get out. I realized that so much of the things that I wanted to do would require too much physical activity on her part.


Initially this was hard on me. But I eventually learned to accept that we were doing what we could do when we could do it at a pace that she could do it. And she was still enjoying what we could do together.


It is difficult when we or our friends and family members who we love so much begin to slow down. But we need to remember that it doesn't mean that they're not enjoying themselves just as much. They're going to do what they can do in a way that they can do it and in a way that they can enjoy it the most. And we can go along for the adventure.


Many times, when I meet with clients, and particularly with their children, they remark about how mom and dad have slowed down. It is difficult for the children to accept. Sometimes I must remind the children about their parent's age, or that their parents are dealing with a chronic illness. Finally, it soaks in that it is okay if their parent does not still plow all day or chop wood. They, as children, can still be there and encourage them.


Understand that at some point we ourselves are going to slow down, but it doesn't mean we don't want our friends to be our companion. Just because we slow down doesn't mean we aren't enjoying life.


That applies to Kiah as well. On that day of the long walk, many times I would wait for her. She would catch up to me and I would pat her on the side and say, "Good girl, Kiah". Suddenly she would have a little bit of spring in her action and would trot ahead of me.


Though the hike that day was exhausting for her, it has not quelled her enthusiasm for doing what she can do when she can do it in a way she can do it. Though we are all growing older and slowing down, we can still enjoy the walk together. Be glad for the moment, even if you start taking short cuts.

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