We were wrapping up the business of healthcare when the question came. After a number of years in healthcare I have found questions either come at the beginning or the end of the visit. Fast and furious and full force before we even get to business – that seems the way of the beginning questions. They own the visit and then we get around to the work that needs to be done. Or there are the questions that are at the end, quiet and in passing, like an afterthought as someone prepares to leave. But really that question was probably the only thought that person had throughout the whole visit.
The afterthought questions are the ones that always hang me up or catch me off guard. Mr. F’s question was presented as an afterthought. It was mentioned as he stood up to leave, but it was too heavy to let pass.
Mr. F is in his 80s, lives in his own home, takes care of himself. He has two grown kids who are each married with kids. One lives in the area close by and he sees them often. The other lives further away and he visits at least twice a year. He is close with both of his kids. Good relationships he has told me. Blessed beyond measure he says.
His kids, he told me, wanted him to move out of his house, this was said as he turned to open the door and leave. It was getting harder to maintain the home. He was aging. They worried about him. Both kids have extra space. Both kids have asked him to move in with them. Both kids want him to be with them and their families. Both kids love him. He loves them.
Should I move?
So there was the question, but really it was many questions. Should he move? Should he sell his home? His beloved home in which he raised his kids. Should he move in with his son and daughter-in-law who live here? Should he move away to his daughter and son-in-law’s home? Should he do it now? Should he wait? Why wait? What is he waiting for? And if he does sell his home and move… well, who should he move in with? Because he cannot live in two places. And then he is having to choose between the two kids he loves so much.
So that was the other question. The one he could not quite say. How do you choose between your kids when they both love you and you love them and they both want you to be with them?
Blessed beyond measure, said Mr F as he stood near the door to the exam room, hand on the knob but not leaving.
I nod and listen and feel utterly unprepared to offer anything besides silence.
You are not giving me answers, says Mr F to me. He looks at me expecting answers. He repeats himself a little more loudly, perhaps thinking I am hard of hearing like half the patients I work with, you are not giving me answers.
Oh gosh. No sir. I am not giving you answers. I say to him. Because there are no answers I can give you.
I thought you would have answers, he says. He smiles a little, hand still on the doorknob. Questions hanging there.
No. I am sorry. I do not. But I am thankful that you brought it up. I am grateful you shared your struggle. I have no answers because there are no right or wrong answers here. There is simply what you decide to do. You decide. That will be the right answer.
He smiles again. He leaves the visit. I am left wishing I had answers for him. But I do not. And the questions hang there.
Those are the questions I think are the hardest. The ones in which there is no true right or wrong answer. But a decision still has to be made. And I believe the hardest part is Mr. F really loves his kids and he does not want either of them to be hurt or sad. And they love him. And I am hopeful their love for each other will be enough as they start to navigate a situation that does not have a right or wrong answer.
Yet now as I sit and write and reflect back I realize there is an answer. The answer is love. Proceed with love. Love. Love. Love.
Such a beautiful story – as always, Rachel.
But what I particularly liked about this one – which is not unlike the “should I get married” question – is your love, love response.
OMG does that bring joy to my heart.
Thank you for that.
ps. I wonder if you ever decide to write a book, if you would locate those two stories one after the other, the wedding question first and then this one, where you figured out the best-ever answer.
pss. of course – your beautiful response to the man, in the moment, about how he alone could pick the right answer – was so satisfying. I bet he found it that way. He knew the answer, you validated the difficulty in making it, you reaffirmed that he had the skills to make it, you sympathized with his difficult challenge – darn if you didn’t manage to care for him in the most brilliant way possible…
Oh, I so wish I had the answer in the moment. But it only came to me later. Love. At the time I mostly listened and felt very uncertain about any advice or guidance I could offer. The best I could do in the moment was tell him he would make the decision that was right for him and in my heart I could hope for him and his family. I will see him again in about 6 weeks and will find out what has happened then.