Tis the season to be jolly! Festive decorations, gatherings of family and friends, and sharing of lavish feasts and sweet treats brighten our spirits. Today, some of us celebrate the birth of Jesus in the Little Town of Bethlehem as we sing “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
Hope is essential to our ability to face the uncertainty of life. A great prophet proclaimed to the chosen tribe of Israel: “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
Hope that is promised within religious scripture is a certain hope, greater than a secular, human hope that Webster defines as “to expect with confidence.” The difference in the two concepts is spiritually profound for those with religious faith. Those who are not religious might not perceive degrees of hope, so the distinction of religious hope could remain as a mystery for them, much like an unwrapped gift under the Christmas tree.
There is a real difference for me between the perfect hope that is promised in the Old Testament and celebrated in the New Testament, and the hope which we, as attorneys and care coordinators, lend and nourish. Our clients and their care advocates face difficult choices as they anticipate and manage the challenges and opportunities of extended care. Our experience and knowledge is useful, but promising a perfect outcome in the final chapters of life is more hope than we can offer.
Sometimes an individual client has an uncertain medical prognosis, as can occur with a rare disease. Other times, a spouse of a person who has dementia feels such stress from caregiving that his or her own health is deteriorating; yet, a profound commitment to stay together makes a suggestion for voluntary separation seem to be impossible. In such circumstances, it can be hard to know what to hope for.
When it comes to knowing whether a legal document will stand up to scrutiny if challenged in court, it is the responsibility of a lawyer to understand the legislation, regulations and case law which apply to the circumstances at hand. An elder law attorney knows how legal outcomes for older persons might be different than for those of a younger age. Giving our clients a high level of confidence that their wishes as expressed in a legal document will be honored by a court, or encouraging wise planning now so that extended care can be affordable in the future, supports our clients’ healthy desire to have a hopeful attitude.
Sometimes, a client comes to us with uncertainty and fear about what will happen after their finances are exhausted. Our services help clients to preserve their assets, obtain government benefits, and avoid financial liability for their children after their assets have been exhausted. To feel a sense of independence and dignity and to fuel a hope that life remains worth living, most clients need to feel that their extended care challenges will not drain their family emotionally or become a financial liability.
Our mission to integrate the legal and caregiving aspects of extended care issues is challenging. Since every case is different, we are like a guide who has walked the trails and fished the waters previously, but cannot guarantee what will be around the next bend or whether the fish will be biting today. Our experience enables us to understand a probability of what might occur, yet for many reasons we cannot know the certainty of what lies ahead. A wise approach to extended care issues can sometimes seem like the Chinese wisdom that one’s best hope to cross a river is to focus on the need to progress from one stone to another, one step at a time.
Sometimes the confusion and stress of extended care can become overwhelming, and it is hard to know what to do next. Just as a hiker who is lost in the woods feels relief to be found by a park ranger, we offer a sense of relief to those who are lost in the extended care maze. The guidance and preparation we give our clients equips them to experience the extended care journey with less confusion and greater probability for financial advantages.
When a caregiver feels lost, his or her sense of hope can seem to be burnt out and in need of rekindling. Often, clients or their caregivers come to our office with an arm full of information and a chest full of stress. We lend our clients and their caregivers the hope which our experience and knowledge with extended care issues has given us an opportunity to discover. We feel it is a hopeful sign when they sigh deeply before leaving our office and express a sense of relief.
If Alzheimer’s or dementia seems to be stealing the personality of someone you love, we understand that you might feel lonely, and even angry or abandoned. In some ways, a caregiver’s pain can be similar to that of grieving a death. Eloise Cole, a bereavement specialist who was also a family caregiver, wrote a poem “Borrowed Hope” which begins: “Lend me your hope for a while. I seem to have mislaid mine. Lost and hopeless feelings accompany me daily.” The hope that her poem seeks is the type of hope that we offer as elder law practitioners.
If your family’s humor and laughter as you celebrate Christmas feels a bit awkward at moments because you are also suffering with a loved one through an extended care crisis, that is understandable. But give yourself a break and embrace what joy you can in this time of celebration. Find comfort in this conclusion of Eloise Cole’s poem: “Lend me your hope for a while. A time will come when I will heal and I will lend my renewed hope to others.”