Ch.160 Now What Will Give Meaning to My Life?
August 5, 2022
I wrote in a previous essay about my fear of boredom, of having to find things to replace the roughly six hours a day I spent with Pat at her memory care center. Last week, walking with my collie Levi, I realized I have another, closely related concern. What will make my life feel meaningful?
I have mixed thoughts about the supposed need to find meaningful things to do with one’s life. Certainly Viktor Frankl, in his famous book Man’s Search for Meaning, believes that humankind seeks something deeper than just living. He suggests that now, in my grief, that this would be a good time to explore that need: “If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering…The way a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails…gives him ample opportunity…to add a deeper meaning to his life.”
On the other hand, part of me wants to say to Dr. Frankl: “Look, doc, I’ve had 78 years of meaningful existence; I’ve been a professional counselor, I’ve written books, and I’ve spent the last four or five years ministering to the needs of my Lewy Body afflicted wife. How about letting me just relax, fall asleep watching baseball every night, and chill? As a friend of mine, Mary Anne, an excellent therapist who had just resigned from her position as lead therapist at a major university clinic, told me one day: “I’ve spent the first half of my life taking care of others. Now I’m going to take care of myself the second half.”
I think I’ve found a compromise position. 1) Relax as best I can as I grieve; 2) Let opportunities for meaningful activities come to me as against searching for them; 3) Be patient: don’t agree to do anything in the name of meaningfulness unless it feels absolutely right; 4) Keep grieving and don’t take on any activity that would interfere with that most essential activity.
Amazingly, I think I have found something that meets all the criteria above. I was back at Pat’s memory care center, (which I previously called The Refuge, but which is correctly identified as Azura in Pat’s obituary) for, of all things, a pretend luau that came complete with an Elvis impersonator. It was silly and fun for the residents. Suddenly a thought came to me: “They could use a family contact person here.” Someone to contact the residents’ family members regularly, maybe run a support group and/or a social gathering group, act as a bridge between staff and families, be available to tell potential residents and their families what it felt like to have my wife living there. Someone to do the family contact work that the heavily burdened staff simply don’t have time for. Hesitatingly, I asked Nicole, the director at Azura, what she thought of the idea. Her eyes lit up. She thought it was a great idea. We made an appointment to discuss the matter. I presented a list of goals and possible tasks. Her bosses enthusiastically agreed to the idea.
Wow! Or is it “Oh, my God, what have I done?” But this opportunity meets all four criteria above. 1) I was relaxing when the idea struck me and I know I can create this “job” at my own comfortable pace; 2) I wasn’t looking for this possibility – it just came into my brain fully formed; 3) the idea feels absolutely right, keeping me connected with a place I like and people I love; 4) being there at Azura may help me grieve; I will be there with all my memories of Pat, happy and sad, hopefully integrating my past and present lives.
I did tell Nicole that I wouldn’t begin until September, though, giving me the rest of this month to focus exclusively upon my bereavement issues.
Viktor Frankl wins this round.