“Nothing is worth more than this day.”
Our business lives are affected by our personal lives. This is a truism that we can easily forget as we go about our daily routines and navigate business issues. We sometimes find ourselves carrying personal burdens silently, sensing that they don't belong in the workplace. Yet all around us, our friends and associates from business carry the same burdens and struggle with the same issues. We need not think of ourselves as alone as our family issues arise.
I relearned this lesson one evening in March. My mother, 88, a widow since 1976 but still vigorous and engaged in life, still independent, had fallen while talking on the telephone with my cousin. I rushed to her home. My son and I found her on the floor of the bathroom. At the hospital, we heard welcome words—nothing broken, no crippling illness, just weakness in her limbs that pointed to physical therapy and some very difficult life decisions.
I have been struck since that first evening by how many of us of a certain age have faced a call just like mine. Colleagues, friends, members of our trade association, all have stories to tell of aging parents who suddenly need our help and, more, our love and guidance, to cope with the inevitable deterioration of old age.
In my case, there was an anxious period of two weeks when it looked like my mother would lose her independence, and her part-time job as an activities director at an eldercare facility, and be forced to live in an assisted-care environment. She resisted, strongly. Her determination means that she can continue at home, with occupational and physical therapy, twice-weekly visits by a caregiver and, possibly, return to work.
Many of you have not been so lucky. You have lost your parents or been forced to watch their long, slow and exceedingly painful deterioration into dementia or debilitating physical illness. Surprisingly, we rarely talk about the difficult choices that have to be made, nor easily recover from a feeling that if only I had been there more often, or if only I had been more alert to the danger signs, this situation might not have happened.
Personal loss is a part of life. In business, we make mistakes or absorb losses or confront situations that offer no painless or logical way out. We expect it and even plan for it. Sometimes those plans work, sometimes they don't, but the pain of the loss is rarely visceral, rarely so intensely and irrevocably personal.
In real life, the relationship between parent and child can be loving and joyful, or perhaps distant and strained. I have shared the astonishment of every parent who has been confronted by an angry, irrational teenager, wondering how our little darlings of yesterday became the fiery, shouting adversaries of today. As a child, I found my independence, made my way in life and yet always felt a sense of responsibility that matched my love for my mother.
Now, as my mother ages, our roles are reversing. My mother will not easily accept further compromises with age. I have to help her find the way and ease her discomfort and anger as her life inexorably changes. I have to find it within myself to be a better son, just as I have to find ways to break my business routine to be a better father and husband. It is not easy, ever, to be the things that life has cast us to be.
It is a circle, and as all of us travel our own paths, we cannot escape what life has in store for us. What we must remember, as Goethe reminds us, is that for parents and children, nothing is more valuable than this day. Today is the best day to confront the decisions that adulthood requires us to make. Today is the best day we have.