Tag Archives: Death

Only Child looks at gratitude

Only Child is grateful for her family – with son Martin and his partner Alison

As we Canadians just celebrated our Thanksgiving it is time to look at gratitude – especially its relation to happiness. In the past 10 years a number of studies have linked the two. I’m not impressed with the results.

Look at the title of one study Practicing Gratitude Can Increase Happiness by 25%. That doesn’t even make the halfway mark. This article at http://www.spring.org.uk/2007/09/practicing-gratitude-can-increase.php refers to a study carried out by Dr. Robert A. Emmons in 2003 which is published in his book Thanks. While Dr. Emmons covers all sides of the fence in his studies (gratitude, hassles and everyday occurrences), the bottom line is only 25% upped their happiness scale for expressing gratitude.

In another later study by Dr. Emmons, subjects did a daily practice of writing down what they were grateful for and the gratitude-happiness ratio increased. Another study focused on adults with congenital disorders and adult-onset neuromuscular disorders. The ones that wrote down their gratitude every day slept better, woke up more refreshed, and felt more optimistic. More studies are outlined in this excellent article by Ocean Robbins in The Huffington Post at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ocean-robbins/having-gratitude-_b_1073105.html.

I have no quarrel with the studies, the articles or the books. My point is nobody’s life is perfect and burying the bad while expressing gratitude for the good in your life doesn’t sit well with me. Maybe it’s because of my late Mom’s weird sense of honesty. Maybe it’s my grade six teacher always harping on “I’ll give credit where credit is due” and my silent addition (“and discredit where discredit is due”).

Or maybe it’s because my parents died young – Dad at 66 after almost seven years of cancer off and on and Mom at 63 of a brain aneurysm five months after its cause hit her (she had arthritis and it caused a nasty fall onto the hardwood floor in our apartment). I was 16 when Dad died and 22 when Mom died.

Add in my own long list of ailments (which I won’t bore you with but they number almost as many fingers, including thumbs on my hands). I certainly don’t feel grateful for these health issues, especially as they are all permanent and some interfere with my life. I try to make the best of my situation but that doesn’t make me grateful.

Except for one health problem – migraines –for two reasons I am grateful for migraines – Migraines started me writing in the healthcare field, but my migraines are long gone. That makes a big difference.

I’m not advocating that we skip giving gratitude. I’m just saying we should also acknowledge what we are not grateful for. Doing so gives me motivation to improve my situation where I can but also to acknowledge others suffering which may be worse and perhaps lending a helping hand. For example, if I see someone struggle to get on a bus and they have a cane I will move so they can have a seat close to the door. Or if I see someone with feet or leg problems struggling down the stairs or taking their time, I give them their space and am thankful I can still walk with ease – most days. When my legs or feet “act up,” it’s a different story.

Some people can be grateful for having cancer and I am not slamming them. I think gratitude and well, non-gratitude, are subjective. I also believe in balancing the gratitude/non-gratitude equation. Fair is fair – something else I learned when growing up.

It really doesn’t do to be all Pollyanna. There can lie the route to denial.

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Death and Dying, Gratitude, Happiness, Health, Mom and Dad, Mother dying, Only child, Sharon A. Crawford, startling statistics

Only Child looks at aging parents

Only Child's late Dad and Mom

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.

Cheers.

Sharon

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Death and Dying, Eldercare, Elderly parents, Family, Health Seniors, Heart Disease, Only child, Seniors