In many ways, Marie grew up in a model traditional family. Her father Chet Reinke spent his days bringing home the bacon and his evenings reading the paper or perhaps grabbing a beer with friends. Hazel managed the household – taking care of Marie, cooking all the meals and keeping things in perfect order – often sweetly singing as she bustled about. Saturday evenings were special. Chet and Hazel would visit friends or maybe get a sitter, gussy up and enjoy a nice dinner out.
Life was good. Each of them knew his or her role and was free to live it, knowing that all was well in their family.
Well, that is, until Hazel began to show signs of Alzheimer’s disease. Initially the symptoms were mild and caused little more than an occasional “I’ll get that, honey,” from Chet. But as she worsened, he found his life upended. Not only did he have to learn to cook and keep house, he had to become a full-time care-giver.
Hazel’s needs continued to increase. At one point she began leaving the house in the middle of the night. Not only was she losing sleep, so was he. And that began taking a toll on his health.
Painful as it was, he had to find full-time care for her. Having ensured that she was safe and healthy, he was free to take care of himself. And because he stayed healthy, he could visit her every day.
Chet understood that truly loving Hazel required that he make his well-being a higher priority than hers. What might have seemed like a noble sacrifice to care for her would likely have left her with less.
Priorities are funny things. They’re not about what comes first, they’re what must come first if needed.
They often require decisions that don’t feel right. But they can’t be ignored.
Like air, water and food, we really have no choice. We can live with out breathing momentarily and, in fact, we must to take a drink or eat something. But no matter how thirsty or hungry we may be at some point we either come up for air or we cease to exist.
In the same way we’re subject to life priorities: god, self, partner, family, work. In that order. Most of the time we get to choose what we do in our lives, but if a higher priority need arises, no matter how difficult, we have to stop and take care of it. Chet knew this. Because he put himself first, he was able give loving attention to Hazel for the remainder of her years.