When the Choice Isn’t Yours Anymore

A Lesson from the Field

I’ve been working with an older woman, the mother of a friend. She’s in her seventies and has Parkinson’s disease. The illness went undiagnosed for a while, and the condition has been hard on mother and daughter alike. I’d say that this doesn’t have much to do with me, except that I’ve been sorting through the mother’s things so the daughter can better manage her mom’s care. And I can’t help but notice and be touched by the special circumstances this situation creates.

As we go through the mother’s things, I’ve been struck by the indignity of the process for her. I try to let her decide what to keep and what to give away, but the truth is that she’s lost most of the ability to make those decisions. That makes the work I do an exercise in balancing respect for the mother and the needs of the daughter in organizing what remains of her mother’s life.

Normally, when I work with clients, I help them make decisions about their personal belongings. I encourage them to keep what’s important to them in their present lives and to let go of what no longer serves them. The work we do together is an active partnership. But my friend’s mom isn’t able to work with me in making those decisions. She can’t actively participate in this aspect of her life, and I can tell that she feels as if she’s giving up more than she’d like.

As an act of defiance against her circumstances, she hides things from me. Before my last visit, she told someone, “Gayle’s coming, I’ve got to start hiding things.” It’s her last stand against losing control of her life, and that makes me sad. It makes me wish I could have helped her earlier, when she could still make decisions about what to keep and what to surrender.

So here’s the lesson for all of us: Make your own choices about your stuff while you can still consciously choose. Don’t wait until those choices are taken away by declining health. Ask for help now, so you can make decisions with your dignity intact. That’s what it’s all about, really. Respect yourself enough to make your own choices. I want to help you with that. 

Elderly woman

Make choices about your stuff while you can still consciously choose.


This article was featured in our October 2009 e‑mail newsletter. To subscribe to our newsletter, please use the subscription form.


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