My friends across the street had to rush her dad to the hospital again, the third time in as many months. Her dad is 87. My dad died at 66, my mom at 63. So I have no aging parents to look after but I have no living parents. Which is the better life scenario?
One thing I’ve found with any person I know – relative, acquaintance – anytime after age 82, you can go from living a good life (substitute “meaningful”, “productive,” whatever you want) to a life of hell – for you and your family. If you’re lucky, you make it into your early 90s before entering old-age hell. Oh sure, there are a few exceptions – you see them and read about them in the news – so-and-so is celebrating his or her 100th/103rd birthday. And they are relatively well physically and they still have active functioning minds. To them I say, “Great. You are very lucky.” But most of the elderly-elderly have to deal with some or all of the following: heart disease, aftermath of strokes, diabetes, extreme arthritis (including osteoarthritis of the knees and hips), blindness, cancer, and perhaps the worst of all – dementia.
It’s hard on the elderly person and it is hard on his or her family. I find myself flipping from both sides as to which has it worst. Sometimes I’m almost glad my parents died in their 60s (when I was 22 and 16) and then I want to shake myself because they aren’t here anymore (except in spirit and memory). I also have to remind myself that dying in their 60s didn’t guarantee them freedom from debilitating diseases. Most of you know my dad died from cancer, but it wasn’t sudden. He had flare-ups of cancer off and on for almost seven years before he finally got out of his misery.
Mom’s situation was something else. After Dad died she fell apart and her health showed it. Suddenly arthritis flared up – rheumatoid arthritis in her hands and feet and scleroderma. She had to quit work because of these crippling diseases when she was in her late 50s. Both may have led to her death – she fell a couple of times and scleroderma makes the face so taut it can lead to pulmonary or cardiac complications and death. Mom “officially” died from a brain aneurysm.
Both deaths leave me ambivalent about when to die. With Dad I had a chance to say “goodbye,” but not with Mom. Her aneurysm came suddenly and when I found her unconscious in her bed I didn’t grasp the seriousness – perhaps out of panic. Despite surgery, she died five days later. During those five days while she was in a coma, in the “wisdom” of my 22 years, I grappled with “What if she comes out of it a vegetable? I can’t cope.” In my memoir in the “Suddenly” chapter, I write
Where did going to church get her? Lying comatose while surgeons dig around in her skull to stop the swelling and maybe, just maybe, get her to wake up. I try to read one of the nameless consumer magazines piled on an end table, but my attention span is lower than that of an addict on speed.
If you let her just wake up and be okay, able to get around, I’ll… I’ll… I try to bargain with God.
You’ll what, Sharon? You don’t want to be a nursemaid. You’re 22 and that’s not happily ever after.
No, God, conscience, whatever, that’s not really it. If I’d have woken up earlier and caught her when she drifted off, if I’d acted sooner, if I’d called an ambulance immediately and got her into the hospital right away after I got up and found her. . .
If…If…if…if “guilt” were one of the seven deadly sins, I’d score a 100 plus on it.
(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford).
And guilt often plays a big part in the sons and daughters of elderly parents. Do I put Mom or Dad in a nursing home? Do I look after them myself? Do I? What is the right thing to do – for both Mom and Dad and me (including spouse and children)?
Seems there is no right answer. Well, maybe if we lived in relatively good health until 90 and then our bodies just died during the night. But that’s sci-fi. With people living longer now (men 78.0 years and women 82.7 years average. (2005 Statistics Canada Mortality Report http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/91-209-x/2004000/rprt-eng.htm#a3) and the rising number here (read “baby boomers”) the situation is in crisis. Sure, governments should provide more assisted-at-home living as well as more nursing homes. But these things cost one way or the other.
It’s Catch-22. I don’t have answers. Any ideas from my readers? Please comment.
Only Child Writes