I keep coming back to the reality of how much I don’t know. When I do my prayers, if they include requests for healing on any level (for myself, others or the world) I always add, “For the highest good of all and according to free will.” It’s my way of saying: “And what the heck do I know?!”
I’m trying to remember this as I assist my two aging parents, both of whom have Alzheimer’s, because it’s so easy to become convinced that a particular path or unfolding of events would be preferable, desirable, or have “better” consequences. But- once again- what do I know?
My mother is grieving the loss of my father (who has advanced Alzheimer’s and had to be sent to a psychiatric facility 100 miles away after escalating aggression.) Her doctors, nurse practitioners, social workers, pastor and myself think that the progress of her dementia might be slowed and her well-being enhanced if she went to assisted living for even a brief stay at a beautiful retirement residence on the lake in her community. She could come and go, receive daily support, and not have to make any immediate decisions re: selling her home or where she will live in the longer term. Seems like a no-brainer.
But, she is adamant (most of the time) that she does not want this, although she is not clear about what she does want & refuses to try a period of respite in assisted living. Understandable, but from my perspective, not really in her best interests.
But, what do I know? My definition of “best” may not be hers. Supportive living might decrease the rate of her mental deterioration. But what if that’s not her priority? What if (and I am not saying this is true) she is semi-consciously hoping that the dementia will progress faster so she will not be cognisant of missing my father? Her entire and sole identity for sixty years has been “Don’s wife.” It is hard for her to imagine any other existence. And. . . . maybe she doesn’t want to.
Which is where the second part of that “rider” I put on my prayers comes in: “according to free will.” People have a right to make their own choices about how they live (unless it impinges on another’s choices and then we have to work toward a mutually acceptable choice) and, if they are not completely mentally incapacitated, how they die. And let’s face it, we all make less than ideal choices all the time. How many of us have watched a friend choose a partner we know is going to treat them badly or make an unwise financial decision? (Because it’s so much easier to see the probable negative consequences of others’ choices.)
Even the situation with my father- which I and many others worked to avoid- well. . . can I be sure that the facility where he is now is not for his highest good? I pray it is.
I’m not advocating passivity in our lives, or in our relationships. I will do everything I can to ensure both of my parents receive the support and care they need. But. . . some of those decisions are beyond my control (at this point, particularly and legally, with my father) and some, rightfully, (again, at this point, with my mother) are not mine to make.
Human beings have free will. Whenever I hear someone say with unqualified optimism that “everything happens for a reason” implying some kind of divine order orchestrating the unfolding of events, I want to remind them about free will. Often “the reason” something happens is because one or more human beings made a free will choice – as is our right and responsibility- that had particular seen or unforeseen, positive or negative (from our current limited perspective) consequences.
So, I’ll keep adding my rider to prayers- so I can pray with my whole heart for what seems to me would be of benefit for myself, other s and the world- reminded that my perspective is very small, and that everyone has the right to exercise the free will we have each been given, for as long as we are able.