What can a caregiver learn from a commencement speech?
(Particularly when that speech was delivered by a technology icon to thousands of young adults, graduating from one of the world's most celebrated institutions of higher education).
The obvious answer may seem to be "nothing."
After all, the majority of caregivers are many years removed from their last graduation. Life has the unfortunate ability to dull the messages of hope and promise infused in commencement speeches. As time passes, life's inevitable losses add up, and youthful optimism gives way under the daunting assault of reality.
But, the recent death of Steve Jobs, co-founder and former CEO of Apple, has caused many to recall the powerful messages contained in his 2005 address to a group of Stanford graduates—messages which transcend age brackets and demographics, aiming at the essence of human existence.
Even people caring for an elderly loved one can benefit from being reminded of some of these lessons—even though they came from the mouth of a man barely old enough to join AARP.
In his address, Jobs discusses three main concepts of great import to recent college graduates; death, love and loss, and the connectedness of life.
Now, trying to educate a caregiver about love, loss, and death would be insultingly presumptuous to say the least. If you're caring for an elderly person, then you are already intimately familiar with the fragility of life and the crushing reality of loss.
No, for a caregiver, the most relevant element of Jobs' speech is undoubtedly his message about "connecting the dots." During his address, Jobs discusses the winding, bramble-covered path that led him to his current position. In one of the most poignant statements of the entire address, he says, "you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards."
This point is as true for caregivers as it is for business moguls—maybe even more so.
Caring for an elderly person is a task rife with pain and difficulty and, when you're in the weeds, it can be impossible to see how things are ever going to work out.
It is during these times—when a dementia-stricken elderly parent is hitting and screaming at you while you're changing your umpteenth adult diaper—that knowing the dots in your life will eventually connect is most important.
They may not connect in the way you originally envisioned on your graduation day. Your picture may have awkward lines, painful smudges, and obvious eraser marks, but it is yours. Learning to appreciate that picture, despite its flaws, can be a freeing revelation for any caregiver.