A New Paradigm is Never Too Late

The new paradigm asks each of us the question, “Are our elders worth interrupting our own lives?”

My friend’s father, Norm, had been institutionalized for a long time. In fact, he and his wife put themselves into the Lancaster, PA retirement home so they wouldn’t interrupt or bother their three son’s lives as they grew old. At first the place was a fantasy of luxury, fun organized activities and abundant food but all that changed when their ages began to cause some inconvenient health issues. After Mary died, Norm started having memory problems and became forgetful.

One morning, he rode his scooter down the street to the store and then forgot what he’d wanted to buy and also forgot he had his scooter, and started walking home. One of his buddies from the institution spotted him and walked him back- but that was not the end of it.

The institution had rules and Norm had accidently broken them. He was put into ‘solitary’ in unit D – and was locked in a studio apartment, without his belongings, unable to see his friends and ate the meals brought to his door.

 After a few days he told his son, “I’d rather die than stay here.”

He was no longer in the happily ever after he had been sold, but found himself in a nightmare situation he had signed up for without understanding the ‘small print’.

Luckily for Norm, his sons didn’t mind interrupting their own lives. They came to Pennsylvania with legal authority, and busted Norm out. They flew together to Hawaii and spent the whole summer visiting family, going to beaches, and drinking fresh fruit smoothies and Mai-Tais.  Norm got to spend significant time with his family, his eight year old grandson as well as nieces and nephews and adult grandkids he hadn’t been around for decades.

After three months, he was returned to ‘solitary’- but not forever.

His daughter in law flew to Pennsylvania from Sweden, signed Norm out and flew with him back to Sweden and then Italy where he has lived for months with his son’s family while they worked on enormous art project commissions.

I spoke to Norm on a video phone call when he was in Italy and his long beard couldn’t hide his bright smile. I asked him how he was and he replied, “I’m very happy to be with my family because I know what the alternative is.” Norm was always expressing gratitude for every experience offered to him and to every person who came into his life to help.

The new paradigm asks each of us the question, “Are our elders worth interrupting our own lives?”

Norm will go back and forth from ‘solitary’ to living with various members of his family who answer ‘yes’ to that question.

 It is never too late to answer ‘yes’.

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