Should I or shouldn’t I?  Decisions come at such a pace that often it is just impossible to give each one its due.  Sometimes little decisions accumulate, and before you have time to really think about it, the decision is made.  Which decision is the right one?  How can I be sure it’s right?

About a year and a half ago, I made a decision, a big one.  I decided it was time to end a very satisfying and stimulating and meaningful career of some forty years to do full time care for Mary Ann, twenty-two years into Parkinson’s Disease.  Was it the right decision?

While the decision was made and announced a year and a half ago, the actual event took place about ten months ago.  I haven’t yet had a full year’s cycle since the day that career came to a screeching halt.   If I had been burned out it would have been an easy call.  If I was tired of the people and the demands, retirement would have been the obvious choice.  If I felt the people I was serving were anxious for me leave the job (I have no doubt some were), it would hardly have been a decision at all.  There was warmth and affirmation voiced by enough to make me feel that I was appreciated.

The truth is, it was actually a decision!  Most choices we make, while we may call them decisions, are actually simply the logical next step along a path that is actually very clear.

The word decision has as part of its root the word translated “cut.”   An actual decision is a choice that demands cutting away something of value for the sake of something else of value.  Which is which is not always clear.  In fact, my use of the word “decision” demands that the choice is not clear — at least at first glance.

I made the actual decision to retire in approximately thirteen seconds, while sitting across from Mary Ann at McFarland’s Restaurant.  Does that sound cavalier, irresponsible?  I saw Mary Ann struggling to get food out of the dish to her mouth, finally giving up in frustration.  It is as if a switch in my mind flipped.  It was a switch of recognition that the time had come.  The time had come to give her my full attention instead of having to struggle for bits and pieces as I focused on my career away from her.

Understand, while the decision was made in thirteen seconds, the process leading up to it had gone on for years.  There were many pieces that were coming together to create the environment from which that decision emerged.  While I would be retiring a year early relative to Social Security, I was vested in my pension and would have a far smaller income stream but not much different from what would be available if I waited another year.  The shock of the lower income would be significant whatever the year I chose.  Another piece was that the number of Volunteers to stay with Mary Ann was diminishing at a fairly brisk pace.  My Daughter and Son-in-Law  needed to return to Kentucky, since the two year commitment they had made was up.  The employer in Kentucky was ready for the return of a valued employee closer to the home office.  Our Daughter had been our mainstay during those two years.

One of the significant pieces of the landscape in which the decision was made was the difficulty I was having doing my work justice with the roller coaster of demands that come with caregiving.  What insulated me from that dimension was a remarkable professional and support staff that, to put it bluntly, covered my tail!  There was a high quality of service provided the community in spite of my limitations.

I can remember saying many times that I would not be a good full time caregiver.  I had decided to work well past retirement age, using whatever resources were available to care for Mary Ann while I worked on.  Even when I began thinking about moving toward retirement, I did so with a deep terror that it would be a disaster for both Mary Ann and me.

In that thirteen seconds, it became crystal clear that I needed to have time with Mary Ann while she needed me most.  Actually, Mary Ann was not really so excited about the prospect of my being at home all the time.  She has a set of feelings of her own about my presence with her — but I am the one writing this post, so you will get it from my perspective.

While I would like to be seen as noble and compassionate and a dedicated husband, I did it more for me than for her.  I have a pretty realistic understanding of humanity.  Most of us do what benefits us.  I needed to stop working and come home to Mary Ann.  I needed it for selfish reasons.  First of all, I do love her in that deep way that includes romantic love and the kind that takes decades to build.  You can only understand it when you  have experienced it.  I made a choice that I could live with.  I care who I am and who I become.  Making that choice brought with it pain beyond description and a deep feeling of worth and value that cannot be stolen from me.

When a decision must be made, each option has good stuff and bad stuff in it.  If it were all one or the other it would not be a decision.  To make a real decison means losing the good stuff in the option to which you say no and gaining the bad stuff in the option to which you say yes.

This week I am feeling the pain of what I have lost.  At the same time, I celebrate what I have gained.  I have gained time with Mary Ann, including moments of frustration for both of us and moments of joy.  Yes, I am watching her slowly decline, but I am here to see it and have some small impact on how it goes.

In a sense, I have moved from a life that included external validation from a salary, from working in a public forum, from others whose lives I entered at some of their most important times, to a life focused on internal validation and the chance to be there for another human being (whether she likes it or not) in a meaningful way, one that makes a difference daily.

Did I make the right decision?  I have no doubts!  In fact, that thirteen seconds was so decisive as to have freed me not to waste a minute on regrets or second thoughts.  I am free to live each day to the full, whatever frustrations or joys it brings.  I get to do it with someone I love.

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