Antidote to Regretby Kenneth Rayman on July 7, 2017
Starting out in Mid-to-End Stage Alzheimer’s care, I wanted to learn as much as I could about what I was working with, having dove in to the deep end of the pool with no prior healthcare knowledge. I had heard about “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” but never watched it. When I finally watched it, I saw what I was witnessing every day with the people I worked with and cared for.
Brad Pitt portrays a man aging backwards through time, starting life as an 85-year-old infant and ending life as newborn elderly man. The curves of age and learning reversed and bent backwards at mid-life, Brad observes life with the knowledge that something was different but believes he’s just “afflicted” with being born “old.” Brad soon realizes he has a unique opportunity as everyone around him thinks he’s older, and later younger, than he is. He jumps at the opportunities to have a job, explore the world, have relationships, and experience life “in the moment” because of his strange gift. This also gives him the ability to look at life through a mindful perspective, understanding a deeper meaning to the lessons he learns from everyone.
After being abandoned at birth he is found by a caregiver, oddly enough, of a boarding home, not unlike a modern day Assisted Living community, for senior citizens. As an “old” child, he makes observations of his surroundings, experiences life through the eyes and curiosity of a child, yet that of a seasoned grown man. He experiences bullying, discrimination, ostracization from some, personal connection to those who accept him, and that of excitement as new abilities are “regained.” As an adult, he experiences love, rejection, fortune, finds wisdom and courage, and foresight to the coming years when he will need help of his own.
He makes a peculiar observation that has stuck with me since; he refers to death as a “common visitor” but speaks of it in a warm tone and something not to be feared. Instead he sees it as something to have a solemn moment for but then celebrate the life of the individual through what they “taught” him. The most poignant observation was his statement, “You always knew when someone left us, there was a silence in the house,” I had noticed the same thing with my residents when someone left or passed away; there was something missing from the feel of the environment, the routine, sights and sounds. In case of the passing, I started to find something to honor them in a small way, such as doing something that they loved or comforting the family in a celebration of life, non-mourning, manner.
I also noticed the aging effect that became a core principle of my care of dementia. As they lost abilities and needed more care, they became more dependent on others as a child might, yet their actions/mannerisms showed they still had glimmers of their pasts. I was told you could tell where on the dementia journey they were by “needing to go to work, care for a child, go home because the children will be home from school soon and need supper fixed, etc.” One day though, I had a breakthrough; a resident seemed to be struggling with a task, when I went to help they looked at me with eyes that looked of those of a young child: sad, frightened, frustrated, and seeking help. Just as Benjamin aged backwards, dementia ages the individual backwards. I often refer to the moment as when a 90-year-old resident looked at me with the eyes of a 7-year-old.
It became my tagline instead of the industry adage of “meet them in their world,” Alzheimer’s and dementia are “a tragic real-life version of Benjamin Button.” Alzheimer’s or dementia doesn’t steal someone’s dreams, needs, or goals but for someone who doesn’t yet understand “meet them in their world,” it might help to think of Benjamin Button.
Gary Vaynerchuk constantly talks about action so that you don’t regret having not taken a chance. His tag lines are “One Life” and “Regret is Poison.” He often tells his followers to volunteer in a “senior citizen’s home” for one day and they will witness “the scariest thing ever,” regret; and residents will have the opening line when asked about their life, “I wish…” He tries to shift the person’s mindset to the big picture in life.
I want to take his argument a bit further. While he points out that “some will be happy and content but the underlying theme is regret,” I would say we also need a healthy amount of his other theme, “self-awareness.” Some people may be following Gary because they aspire to what he has or because they think it’s cool. When they hear that advice, they may think, “I’ll just go to the nearest nursing home and do it,” without thinking about the actual act, which he rightfully points out is their fault for not being self-aware and not thinking it through.
If they are serious about understanding aging and want to find out why he says it the way he does, the take away will be hearing of AND seeing EVIDENCE OF REASONS for regret. When I look at the what and why of his statement I think two things: 1. His interest in aging is unique and I’d love to pick his brain, 2. If they follow through on his call to action, they will see that as you get older the body naturally loses its ability to do certain things, that circumstances may have led to medical ailments or chronic conditions, or that DNA predisposed you to a condition like dementia that will steal/fragment your memories and your functioning. As such, they will leave hearing some people “actually talk” of regret but they will leave with far more reasons to live their “One Life” so that they don’t “regret” later in life.
Benjamin teaches us to live life in the moment and, like Gary, choose to focus life on legacy using his tugboat captain’s advice, “You could be mad as a mad dog at the way things went. You could swear, curse the fates, but when it comes to the end you have to let go.” Gary uses the terms, “Micro” and “Macro” to illustrate the same thing. Everyone is Benjamin’s life found a “Macro” when they stopped worrying about the “Micro,”; the gentleman struck by lightning learns to accept the fact that he is alive, his father shows remorse and teaches Benjamin to forgive, the tugboat captain became a tattoo artist to show off his art, the ambassador’s wife finally swims the English Channel, his friend and later wife realizes that her true dream of being a mother was more important than being a dancer and neglects to tell her daughter about her famous dancing career. Each person Benjamin meets learns to find the bigger purpose in their own lives, a true Antidote to Regret.
Chafin, C. (Producer), Kennedy, K. (Producer), Marshall, F. (Producer) & Fincher, D. (Director). (2008)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button [Motion Picture]. USA: Paramount Pictures.
One Life [Video file].
Retrieved from https://youtu.be/Ef9N1c3_JoA
Vaynerchuk, G. (Dec. 26, 2016). Keynote: Inbound 2016. The Gary Vee Audio Experience. Podcast
Retrieved from https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-garyvee-audio-