In the end.

Posted: October 15, 2010 in Family, Headspace
Tags: , , , ,

This is a photo of Bill’s grandfather, Grandpa Ed, at the Christmas celebration at our house in 2000. He used to read the story of Christ’s birth straight from the bible every year with all of the kids, young and old, gathered around him.

Grandpa hasn’t done that in several years now. His health has deteriorated at an alarming rate for the last few years. He’s been wheelchair-bound for quite some time, and he’s been in and out of the hospital a lot. A couple of months ago, when we took lunch to the grandparents’ house for a visit, he wasn’t looking well at all, and wasn’t really “there”. And then, last week, he fell and broke his leg in three places. He made it through emergency surgery, spent a few days in the hospital, and was moved to a facility for recovery and therapy. His first day there, he aspirated and had to be moved immediately back to ICU. He was placed on a ventilator and had to be resuscitated several times.

We were all told not to expect miracles, and that he had a 20% chance for surviving and getting well enough to move back to the recovery center, but that he’ll never live at home again. We kept expecting “the” call, all throughout the week, and mentally prepared ourselves.

However, the latest update from Bill’s sister is that Grandpa is off the ventilator, and is talking a little. We’re going up to the hospital tonight to visit him. Your thoughts and prayers for his comfort and well-being, and that of our dear Grandmother Claudine who is frantic with worry, would be greatly appreciated.

This brings me to talk about something that’s been on my mind, lately – quality of life. I think we all hope that we go out in a peaceful, or at least painless way, far into our elder years. The best I hope for is to die on my 101st birthday, while having sex with my 111 year old husband (hi, Bill) who goes out at the same time. (Oh, the poor kids, if they find us like that!) I would hope that I remain healthy all throughout my twilight years, though I’m only 36 now and sometimes I creak when I get out of bed. Still, I can handle a certain amount of discomfort as long as I’m mobile, of sound mind, and can still eat whatever I want.

I guess there are certain things I could handle, and certain things I could not. Of course, I wouldn’t know unless I experienced these things, but what if I go blind? Lose my hearing? What if I can’t walk, can’t feed myself, have to pee in a bag? What if I’m in and out of the hospital constantly? What if my spouse is home-bound because I can’t DO anything? What if he starts to resent the way I’ve hampered his quality of life? What if I break a bone if I so much as bump a piece of furniture? What if the only thing left for me is to sit and sit, and watch television? What if I start forgetting who my loved ones are, who I am? If it gets bad enough, will I have the courage to face my mortality in a dignified way? Will I be able to convince my loved ones to let me go, to not take extreme measures that force me to linger when I don’t want to?

There are a great deal of things to be afraid of, regarding getting old. We all know that no one gets out alive, so what should we hoping for as we approach the end? To just have more good memories than bad? A smaller amount of regrets than we were expecting? The best health possible right up to the end, but barring that, just one more day of consciousness? To not be alone?

That last one scares me the most.

  1. Jayne says:

    You’re taliking about territory I’m all too familiar with as I’ve been unable to talk, to sit up, to go to the toilet – I’ve lost my dignity and not known whether it would ever end. And in recovery? With no specific facility here I was surrounded by the elderly and infirm who are the usual long term residents of that ward. I made friends with two very charming, witty and intelligent ladies who were treated like intansigent children by the nursing staff and I saw both on a sharp decline because of it. No wonder then that getting old absolutely terrifies me. I’m a strong, strong believer in Living Wills therefore.

    I’m so, so sorry to hear about Grandpa and Grandma must be beside herself with worry. GP sounds like a fighter though and good for him – never underestimate the power of the mind and the love and prayers of others.

    Thinking about you all and sending you all my love and best wishes.

    • Tiffany says:

      I’ve always been terribly proud of you for triumphing over your ordeal as you did. Grandpa’s circumstance is quite different, of course, and there’s only the comfort that he lived a long, full life. That he’s having to endure the things he is, in these final days, is so sad because it’s not the way he’d choose to go. But how many of us go the way we really want to?

  2. crisi-tunity says:

    I’m hoping for good enough health, up until the end, that I don’t have to cope with anything in the third-to-last paragraph. Or I hope for the strength to cope with those items. And not just hoping – my autumn years are often what I think about when I do yoga and eat tofu.

    This article (although long, it’s well worth reading) was illuminating to me about how treatments to extend life can lead to major heartbreak. I agreed with its premise before I even read it, though – in part because of what I saw through work in medical malpractice, and in part because I am a big believer in humans coming and going when it’s time for them to do so.

    I want to die after a good life, without fuss or difficulty. When and how it happens is not something I presume to be up to me. But I don’t want a pacemaker keeping me alive years after the me my family loved is gone.

    • Tiffany says:

      “I want to die after a good life.” Amen. Thanks for the article link, it’s disturbing reading. We don’t realize how much we’ve messed with the “natural order of things” by taking such measures to prolong life. Long after it shouldn’t, in dignity, continue.

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