Being useful vs. useful being

Today I was having a conversation with someone who has visited persons who are elderly and receiving palliative care. I asked him if any of them have expressed temptations to end their lives prematurely.

“Many,” he said.

“Why is that?” I asked.

He told me that it’s because of a sense of no longer being useful. “For so many, their sense of worth is connected to how useful they can be to their loved ones and to others in their life. When these opportunities diminish, so does their estimation of the value of their lives.”

Then I asked him how he addresses this during his encounters.

He said, “I listen to them. I listen to them tell the stories of their lives. And then, I say to them that their telling helps me.”

I have been reflecting on this: Even when a person ceases, in certain senses, to “be useful”, we can always find ways to affirm the usefulness of their being.

And in fact, all throughout our lives, we can find ways to affirm that it’s useful for others to be, wholly apart from any of the ways they might “be useful.”

This takes practice and intentionality.

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