Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Thinking about the End

I seem to be bombarded with reminders of what happens to people and animals as they get old enough to contemplate their end. The death of my friend Florence, my mother-in-law who spends her days going in and out of the nursing home and the hospital, and my ancient black lab Dylan are constant reminders that old age is definitely not for sissies.

Florence’s daughter Lydia made it possible for her mother to die with dignity in her own home on her own timetable, without the sterility of the medical profession. They really got the hospice thing right. When I went to visit Florence, the conversation never focused on her decline, but rather on the continuing activities that kept her mind active until the end.

My mother-in-law’s case is not nearly so clear-cut. She keeps getting punched down little by little with mini-strokes and deteriorating bones. There is no long-term prognosis for her, although her decline has definitely accelerated this past year. She can no longer be by herself for any period of time, needing help to get to the bathroom and not remembering enough to be safe in her own home. Hopefully her mind will go before her body deserts her altogether.

My dog Dylan is hanging on, although there are days when I doubt his back legs are going to support him. He currently thinks he has died and gone to heaven because he is now eating homemade chicken and rice for each meal. Our other dog Jake looks on with envy and drools as he eats his kibble and wishes he were the old one.

After seeing the movie about Alsheimer’s this past week and being involved with all the above aged beings, I have started to think about my own final end game. I hope my children will be as sensitive to my dignity as Lydia was to her mother’s. I hope I don’t have a protracted period of decline like my mother-in-law’s. I hope someone will make me comfort food like Dylan’s chicken and rice. I hope I will accept my fate with optimism and a resolve to make the most of my last days.

13 Comments:

Blogger bozoette said...

Hi Barbara. I found you through DCBlogs today, and your entry really resonated with me. My 96-year old mother now needs some (but not constant) care. It's probably the beginning of the end of her life. I'm praying she forgets to wake up one morning, rather than have the series of strokes she so dreads and is convinced she's having (she's not, really). The family dynamics are stressful, as they don't simply involve siblings, but adult grandchildren as well. I'm not sure where I'm going with this, except to say thanks; it helped.

3:53 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Bozoette -- Thanks for introducing yourself. I think we may be of the same generation. I will look forward to reading more of your saga as it unfolds. Now go eat a peach!

4:18 PM  
Blogger GEWELS said...

It is extremely difficult to watch the decline of our loved ones- be they people or pets. And to try to find a lesson in all of this may be even more difficult. But, the title of your blog indicates that you may be able to see the lessons arising from this. Looking to Live: living each day and cherishing each moment and friendship as if it were your last.

We should all live our lives this way...you never know when your last moment may be. And, when it does arrive may everyone say it was a life well-lived- no matter your age.

My thoughts and prayers are with you through this difficult time. And, as for Dylan, no matter what, he is a lucky dog!

6:00 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Gewels -- I'm really OK at this point and very grateful for good health and hopefully a long life ahead. I'm just filing these things away for the (hopefully) far future...

6:03 PM  
Blogger Velvet said...

Since I was little, I've always feared the death of my loved ones, and now my pups. Sometimes I think if I had to pick: a terrorist driven plane heading for the World Trade Center or a slow and painful descent to death, the former might be better. Morbid. I know. But these are the things that go through my head!!

9:48 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Velvet -- I'm like you in many ways. I want to be able to say goodbye and then leave quickly. I can't say a terrorist plane of any sort would ever be my preference though.

11:43 PM  
Blogger Pauline said...

I wonder if, when the time comes, we will be surprised by what death really is. My mother was declared clinically dead for two minutes when she hemorrhaged after my my twin sisters were born and when she was resuscitated she said the place where she'd waited was the most peaceful place she'd ever known...

7:30 AM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

Honestly I'm not afraid to die, but I am afraid of slow decline, though sometimes (obviously) that's the perfect way to go.

Maybe it's a good moment to go visit a baby?? Leyla would welcome the company. She loves cookies so if you show up with some, she'll be so happy. Maybe it would be good to hold little Roya for awhile, be reminded that there's also a beginning on the spectrum of this precious existence? Do you think?

7:57 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

At some point in our life we come to recognize our mortality. Not something we have learned and memorized, but something we know. I found it kind of scary, what once seemed a vast open expanse now has a definite boundary that draws nearer each passing day.

A good and dignified death is important. I was glad my mom could die at home with her husband and children around. I would hate to die in the cold emptiness of a hospital ward, alone with only electronic monitors, with their blinking lights, to keep me company. In many ways, our modern culture has removed humanity from the last stages of life and made it inhuman. I believe reasonable efforts should be made to preserve and protect life, but I am opposed to inhumane attempts at delaying the inevitable.

Is any of this also influenced by the commemoration of Tisha B'av?

9:29 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Reya -- Your comment about babies reminded me of an interesting anecdote on Florence's death. Her grandson's wife went into labor with her first great-grandchild just 15 minutes after Florence died. As Florence left this world Esmae joined it. It is reassuring to realize that life goes on!

Richard -- I totally agree with you. Unfortunately I think dying in your own bed is not so common these days where technology often fills the human void.

My thoughts were motivated only by what I have recently experienced, not the celebration of the Jewish holiday.

9:45 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

I can see that - given two recent deaths. Just, coincidentally, your post came on that rueful Jewish day (although that whole evening to evening way of counting days always confuses me) - which why I asked.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Richard -- I'm always surprised when non-Jews know about Jewish holidays!

11:34 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

I consider knowledge of Judaism a prerequisite for Christians.

Although, I must confess, I was alerted to it being Tisha B'av from another blog.

3:30 PM  

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