‘Live your life while you’ve got it!’ That was Stan’s* message, but it seems it had become his mission to make sure everyone he met heard it.
Wiry and small framed, I’m guessing he was approaching his late 60s, but he looked older.
I met Stan while helping out on a door-to-door fundraising venture. When he answered after I knocked on his door, I told him what I was about and he gave me $5 and his story.
Two years earlier, his wife had retired at the age of 60. For retirement, they’d dreamed of becoming grey nomads and travelling the land. He bought a big caravan and a large four-wheel drive to pull it, and they headed off toward the sunshine.
His big hope was that this new, more relaxing lifestyle would help his wife. She had become somewhat forgetful and was vague at times. This new life could be a real time of healing for her.
That was not to be. After six hours journey on their first day on the road, it was as if a switch was thrown. He described it as full-blown Alzheimer’s. She started screaming and trying to take her seatbelt off and open the door to get away from him.
She didn’t know who he was. She feared him. Somehow he managed to get her home and he’s now her carer.
‘I tell everyone who’ll listen,’ said Stan. ‘Forget about the money for retirement, forget about waiting. Live your life while you’ve got it. You don’t get those times back.’
The caravan has gone. The big four-wheel drive as well. They were sold so his wife could have extra care. Cost for her care has also used up most of the money they’d put aside for retirement.
The importance of now
‘Live your life while you’ve got it.’ It’s a warning for any who wait for retirement when they hope they can pull their life together. There are no guarantees that it will come to be. Tomorrow may bring trauma.
Besides, life is meant to be lived to the full now. We cheat ourselves if we don’t live it well.
Matt Mayberry writes, ‘There is no better time to start living life to the fullest than right at this moment. After all, not being present and choosing to not live life to the fullest now just might be one of your biggest regrets while on your death bed.’
Too many of us tend to wait for ‘when’—‘When I finish my degree’; ‘When I get that raise’; ‘When I retire’—then my life will come together. In some way. Maybe.
Stan’s message rings true: ‘Live your life while you’ve got it.’ Now is the time to start.
Seeing the upside when life is cruel
The reality is that life can be cruel. This couple is a living demonstration of it.
As he talked, I came to admire him. He’s committed to giving his wife the best life she can have. He’s taken his vows, ‘for better or for worse’, seriously. And he’s doing it despite the fact that she rarely recognises who he is.
‘I live for those moments when she comes back to me,’ he told me. ‘It’s never for long, but she recognises me, and for a few moments . . . ,’ his voice trailed off.
He’s making the best of an awful situation. There’s regret in his ‘live your life while you’ve got it’ message and he’s using it to warn us about not letting life merely slip away while we still have control over it.
But I sensed no regret in what he was doing for his wife. He has accepted their reality and what he must do for her. He’s one of those everyday heroes who live their lives in support of someone else.
Martin Luther King once said, ‘Everybody can be great . . . because anybody can serve.’ And to serve, he added, ‘You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.’
Stan has achieved greatness.
*Not his real name.