Oops!…Is Part Of Being Human

People say it all the time . . . That’s perfect!

  • How’d the apple pie she made taste? It was perfect!
  • Did you have a good time on the date? Everything went perfectly!
  • Did you like that new restaurant? What a perfect place!

Not long ago, during a hospice team meeting, we reviewed a family’s struggle to care for a dying loved one. Since hospice isn’t present 24/7 in the home, we are on-call to answer questions from the patient’s caregivers . . . their sons, daughters, spouses, parents and friends. This particular family kept calling, early and often. They wanted to be sure medications were properly given. They were concerned when their loved seemed too drowsy or didn’t eat as much as expected. Several family members debated about giving too much or too little of a particular medication. None of their concerns, and none of their debates, created serious problems for the hospice patient; she likely never knew how many calls were made to clarify decisions.

You-are-not-perfectOur hospice doctor listened to the nurses and social worker’s describe the family’s quest for doing everything right. At one point, the doctor said, “Isn’t there some catchphrase about ‘the perfect is not as good as the good’?” Then the doctor grinned. “No, that’s not quite it. Maybe it goes, ‘Good is better than perfect’ . . . no, that’s not it either . . .”

After giving up on recalling the exact words (the good doctor was far from perfect in his memory!), the hospice team continued to chat about how family’s feel when caring for a parent, grandparent, child, spouse or dear friend. Too often caregivers do seek the impossible . . . being perfect.

Later, I searched for the phrase the doctor stumbled over:  The perfect is the enemy of the good.

Doesn’t perfect mean without equal? Perfect doesn’t consort with oddities, flaws or questions. I’ve observed red-tailed hawks in my backyard soar effortlessly through trees thick with summer growth and land on a single, flimsy branch. In South Dakota I witnessed a herd of pronghorn antelope never break stride as they appeared to fly over a fence, and then continued to glide across a meadow and vanish from sight. Every movement of the hawk and the antelopes seemed so . . . perfect.

But nothing is perfect. Is it? All who care for a hospice patient will fall short of their self-imposed expectations. Oops is part of being human. Caregivers will have doubts; they will check and double-check a dosage and still not be 100% sure. In the quest to care for a loved one, try to let go of perfection. Be the good but not perfect daughter to the father, the good but not perfect husband to the wife and the good but not perfect grandchild to the grandmother.

I believe that trying to be good, rather than seeking the never attainable “perfect,” can give caregivers more time for reassuring hugs, expressions of gratitude and to share memories.

(Hospice vigorously protects a patient’s privacy. I’ll take care with how I share my experiences. Any names used are fictitious. Events are combined and/or summarized.)

Image from here.

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  1. This story of “perfect” hits the spot for a friend’s situation of caring for her brother. He has since died, but she tells of the siblings arguing earlier about meds, dosage, if their brother was in pain, etc. Their Hospice help was wonderful, responsive and encouraging. The siblings bickered on a few issues. Now they must rest, acknowledge their loss and try to forgive one another. I would like to give them your article.
    Now it is a month or so later. As a favor, I have picked up the cremains from the mortuary and delivered them to my friend. Plans are being made to disperse the ashes, no perfection there either. It takes more decisions, who is to be included in the event, but it will happen, people will self-select whether to be a part of this custom. I do hope this family will avail themselves to contact their Hospice worker to discuss how they feel, how will they ever move forward, and feel o.k. just being human.
    This article is “perfect” to give my friend. May I copy it? Where is the
    How do I do that? Many thanks.

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