The Toughest Decisions…

Several close friends of mine in their mid-to-late 80’s — of great vigor and intelligence — have squarely faced their own naturally diminishing skills and made some extraordinarily brave, and painful, decisions.

One, a financial genius who understands every nuance of economics and can discuss the intricacies of the Torah with any Rabbi, has decided to stop driving. This, as many of us know, who no longer live in cities, is no small thing.

All his life, he has been an active driver, who enjoyed the activity enormously. For more than 20 years, he, singlehandedly, tended a 100 acre piece of property — clearing brush, chopping wood, tending a lush garden. Although he is nearly 15 years older than I, to me, he has always been my contemporary and equal in physical abilities and mental prowess.

Yet, recently, he came to the difficult realization that he just didn’t feel comfortable or as confident as he used to behind the wheel of a car. He told me of his extraordinary decision matter-of-factly, as it was a rational recognition of a natural part of aging. An extraordinary sacrifice, and a courageous recognition of how we need to be alert — and honest — about the passage of time, and the decline — sometimes barely perceptible to us and others — of our own abilities.

I shared with him that even though I was only 75, I understood how tough it was to recognize it was time to give up something you love. Five years earlier, following my third serious bicycle accident in 40 years of bike-riding — a sport I loved — I voluntarily gave up bicycling, recognizing that my balance just wasn’t what it was anymore, and that anxiety had replaced pleasure as my overwhelming feeling each time I saddled up.

Another friend, whose partner is nearing 90 and been subject to some falling spells, straightforwardly came to a similar decision. They both adored their independence, traveled the world, and immersed themselves in music, literature and learning about the cultures of other countries.

Yet, without hesitation, when it became obvious to both and those who loved them that it might not be the wisest decision to pretend that life would go on as it always has, they were clear-eyed in what they had to do. They found a continuous care community in which they could be comfortable, and met their needs from independent to, potentially, assisted living. They immediately put their stylish suburban condo up for sale which they loved and nurtured for years.

Such decisions — to stop driving and to sacrifice complete independence — are extraordinarily difficult for people who have lived active, engaged lives, and are still at the top of their game cognitively and in social interactions.

They are acts of sheer courage, love, and selflessness, with a clear-eyed view of where they’ve been, where they currently are, and how best to deal with the challenges life has ahead.

Joe Biden, Jill, their family, friends and close staff members and supporters could learn a good deal from my friends, neither of whom holds the future of democracy in their hands.

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