In our society, childhood is full of gaining independence. As a part of growing up, it is expected for children to slowly learn to take steps on their own and gain the freedom required for adulthood.
The World of Adulthood
On my 16th birthday, I was ushered into the new world of driving, my 18th Birthday introduced me to the world of adulthood by gaining the right vote, and my most recent experience at college has enabled me to live on my own. As I experienced each of these important milestones, my father always made it a point to reiterate one of his favorite sayings: “With more freedom comes more responsibility.” Thus, getting my license also meant paying for gas, turning 18 meant getting a job, and coming to college meant learning to cook and paying rent on time.
“With more freedom comes more responsibility.”
Recently, I was introduced to another huge milestone in my life, turning 20. I felt a mix of excitement, but also a bit of disappointment as I realized I am no longer a teenager. As I dwelled on this fact, I also thought of my 94-year-old great grandmother. I thought about all she had lived through: The Great Depression, 2 World Wars, countless weddings, funerals, birthdays, and holidays. I also thought about her independence.
My family faced a number of challenges in caring for my great grandmother. One of the hardest things my grandfather said he ever had to do was take her car keys away from her. For a while, she was upset with him and refused to stop driving. But eventually, she turned in the keys. Until this year, she continued to live in her own home with caregivers working around the clock to help with cooking, cleaning, bathing, and medication.
Millions Growing Older
My great grandmother’s story is not unique. With the baby boomer generation rapidly reaching retirement, this problem is affecting a large portion of the population. The NY Times states, “People 85 and older are the fastest-growing age group; by 2020, there will be 6.6 million people in that age bracket.” Millions of senior citizens and their families are learning to adapt to the changes of growing older, but this is a gradual and difficult process.
“75% of people feared getting ill and becoming dependent while just 29% feared dying.”
The elderly must adapt to several new circumstances in their lives including growing ill, feeling lonely, accepting death, and becoming dependent. Among these circumstances, accepting dependence can actually be more difficult than accepting death. According to a survey conducted by The National Disabled Living Foundation Charity, “75% of people feared getting ill and becoming dependent while just 29% feared dying.”
Freedom From Responsibility
In our society, it is common to assume children gain independence as they grow old and adults lose independence as they grow old. When I think of my great grandmother, I sometimes wonder if she was really stripped of her independence when we took her car keys, or if somehow she was actually liberated from a sense of responsibility.
If my dad is right, and more freedom means more responsibility, then does less freedom somehow mean less responsibility? While my great grandmother could no longer drive on her own, she could now enjoy spending time with one of her children as they drove her to the grocery store.
Although she could no longer cook, she could now use the time spent on cooking to watch Jeopardy (her favorite TV show) and have hobbies like crafting and sewing. Being cared for doesn’t necessarily include losing independence; instead, being cared for includes gaining more time with your family and saving more time for yourself.