Stockdale Paradox

NOTE:  The following post was written shortly before my husband died on April 30, 2023.
I have decided to post it as written, since it has valuable content. 

This present time – being a caretaker for a loved one with dementia – may it teach me to be all that I can be for another human being. May it be the life event that defines me.

The above paragraph and the thought behind it did not come easily. I could not have typed that or even known what to think about it a year ago. But I’m changing, thank goodness. That above thought evolved and deepened as I considered what Admiral Jim Stockdale said in a writeup by Jim Collins. The writeup is named the “Stockdale Paradox.”

Stockdale Paradox

I was introduced to the Stockdale Paradox at a faculty/staff retreat before I retired from my beloved job at the University of Wyoming Fay W. Whitney School of Nursing. After the retreat, I searched online for the full story. Most of what I’ve typed below came from Jim Collins’ post online about his talk with Admiral Stockdale:


Stockdale was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for seven-and-a-half years. Before meeting with the legendary soldier and statesman, Collins read Stockdale’s memoir and found its grim details hard to bear, despite his knowledge that Stockdale’s later life was happy. Collins wondered, “If it feels depressing for me, how on earth did he survive when he was actually there and did not know the end of the story?”

When he posed that question to the admiral, Stockdale answered: “I never lost faith in the end of the story. I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”


Don’t try to make any parallels with Stockdale and me. Stockdale’s predicament was horrific and beyond anything I could imagine. I am focusing on the last of Stockdale’s sentence, “…that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”  I desperately want this present time of caring for my husband– who not only has dementia, but is now totally bedridden and on “Home Hospice”—to be something I look back to, knowing I ministered to my husband in a beautiful way. I don’t want to feel guilty and regret this time because I DIDN’T step up! I want this experience to make me into a better human somehow. And above all, I want my husband to feel loved and cared for in the midst of such a scary experience. 

I am touched by the care my husband receives from the CNAs and nurses through Hospice. Those professionals should ALL be given medals for the service they provide for folks. They have a very difficult job. And they have taught my daughters and me how to provide some of that care. 

I mentioned earlier that it didn’t come easy to me to ask for my new role to “teach me to be all that I can be for another human being,” that this new role might actually be the life event that defines me. 

Why am I holding back in embracing my new role? Well, to be honest, I’m squeamish. I don’t want to do all that the CNAs and nurses do. It scares me; I feel inadequate, incapable. But that work has to be done, and the professionals don’t work at my home around the clock. They touch base and come if something serious is going on. The CNAs come for a short time each morning for the 5-day work week. The rest of the time I’m the CNA, and if I’m lucky, one of my daughters happens to be here—and so far I’ve been REALLY lucky. They bring their computers over to my kitchen and WORK online from my house. Wow, I’m thankful for the internet so that they can do that… and I’m thankful for their jobs and bosses who let them work online…  Really thankful today for all of that 😊. 

Those daughters whom I dare to call “mine” deserve some kudos! They have been better at this than I have. They were undaunted by the circumstances thrust upon us. They saw my weaknesses and moved in to share the load and to encourage me in my new role.  And it didn’t hurt that my youngest, Teresa, happened to have taken a CNA class in high school [under Lorraine Klein – thank you, Lorraine!]. Emma and I are so happy when Teresa is with us to do any care, since she is confident and does her work beautifully and professionally. 

So what does all that have to do with dementia? 

In hoping I can help someone down the line, I’ll just say this: “Did you know that dementia can make the brain stop controlling such things as the bladder?” So my dear husband has to have a catheter in for the rest of his life, which is pretty miserable for him. A few years ago, Denny had to undergo several tests and scans to see if something was wrong with the prostate. Nothing was wrong. He should have been able to empty his bladder without a problem. The mention of dementia FIRST came from the UROLOGIST after that report came through. We all thought the UROLOGIST was crazy. But he was right! And we didn’t come to that realization for two more years.

So I didn’t know such a thing could happen as a result of dementia, and I imagine there is someone else out there who doesn’t know that as well. I’m hoping to reach anyone out there who has a loved one with a similar problem. 

Doing humble service

The nurses and CNAs care for “that area” and help to mitigate any problems which arise, which can be serious actually—and we found that out last Friday, when there WERE problems that were QUITE serious and caused my husband much pain. 

For those of you who might appreciate a Christian perspective, I think of Jesus at “The Last Supper”, when he stooped to wash the disciples’ feet. He took on the lowliest of jobs, and then told his disciples that they should also wash one another’s feet. He instructed them that He set an example for them that they should do as He had done for them.

So I see our serving one another, our stooping to take care of one another’s most basic needs, as a blessing that God asks of us. He wants us serving one another as HE did. So I reiterate with my “prayer” that started this post… “This present time – being a caretaker for a loved one with dementia – may it teach me to be all that I can be for another human being. May it be the life event that defines me.”

This point in time for me is where “the rubber meets the road”: How serious am I about being what the above writing encourages?  How serious am I about dying to self and helping another?  I have been a very selfish woman in my thought life, I think. It’s time to say to myself, “Pick yourself up by your bootstraps and grow up, Claire! It’s time to think of someone else, not just your own comfort.” It’s hard being me when I want to be something better. But isn’t it nice that each day gives us another chance at it. I love the song, “Morning Has Broken” – … “like the first morning…” We have a chance every morning to make our life better, to better live the life we know God wants us to live, to think of others more highly than ourselves. I am grateful that we always get another chance to better ourselves. How does it make you feel that I keep changing from “I” to “we”?  Do you get the idea that I’m hoping for some company in this pursuit?  Then we can all discuss our failures and encourage one another to keep at it! HELP!!

Thanks for letting me share all that. I benefited in my mind and spirit as I typed through all this.  I am grateful for this blog allowing me to work out all my issues, and for those of you patiently enduring my ramblings.

I’ll be talking about another part of the Stockdale Paradox next post. Hoping to see you then!

4 thoughts on “Stockdale Paradox”

  1. I laughed out loud when you started comparing “I” and “we”…..we all need each other!

    Was just meditating on Matthew 18:10 – “See that you do not despise one of these little ones”. Apparently “little ones” doesn’t mean children. (only)….it means weak, helpless people. And Dad certainly was that in his last months. Thank you for stepping up and being there for him!


      That Matthew verse IS important. And I thank you and your sisters for stepping up in HUGE ways to be there for your Dad AND for ME! Loving you all so much.

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