Several days after seeing my father, I requested my mother get approval to see a counselor. “Doesn’t matter if you utilize the service. At least you have access to grief counseling should you choose.”
In her HMO, all counseling require preapproval. Accordingly, we made an appointment with her (and my father’s) primary care physician. Of course, the doctor preapproved the request. And while doing so, he mentioned that he’s personally seen several cases where 85 plus year-olds have recovered quite well from stroke. “Took several years,” he nodded. “But it can happen.”
I agree with him. I too, suppose, one can recover from the type of damage my father suffered. The reality is vastly different for 98% of 85 plus stroke patients. They are told, that with physical therapy, they would learn to walk again and return to their life. Most never will.
Most of us will be confined to wheelchairs and the rigidity of nursing home life. All privacy and control gone. We will awaken per schedule, bathed, and dressed per schedule, eat per schedule, watch television per schedule, and returned to sleep per schedule. The remainder of the last several years will be filled with a succession of roommates, never chosen, and jammed together like an incarcerated rat.
My father’s only crime? Being old. At one time in his life, my father had possibilities. Now he doesn’t. So, rather than thinking of something new and inventive for our elderly, we ban them from society by shuffling them off to brick corridors guarded by keypad locks and cameras.
I think the only way death becomes meaningful is to see oneself as part of something greater. Maybe there is a greater goal. If you do not find the ‘greater good,’ mortality is a horror show. As my body dies, I look at my father and wonder if I can find comfort in companionship, everyday routines, the taste of good food, the warmth of sunlight. Will I ever become less interested in the latest technology and more interested in simply being? It’s in my father’s frailty that I search my inner being and identify a purpose outside myself that makes living feel meaningful and worthwhile.
All journeys have the same ending–at a place nobody wants to go. Peaceful death during one’s sleep and swift catastrophic illnesses are exceptions. For most, death comes only after long medical struggle with an ultimately unstoppable condition—cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s, organ failure, or the accumulating debilities of age.
I still haven’t told my family of my tumor surgery, or the extensive osteoarthritis in my neck, back, knee, feet and hands. I haven’t said anything of my Parkinson’s diagnosis. I haven’t told them I’m dying.
Yet, I look at my father and outwardly admit I don’t want medicine to eat my flesh. I don’t want endless bouts of multiple chemotherapy regimens, last-ditch surgical procedures, experimental therapies, especially when the ultimate outcome is particularly clear. I would rather move on.
Moving on. That is the conversation we need. How can we gracefully move on from a world that refuses to let us go?
Categories: Life Lessons