June 04, 2009


Calling it

Sadness with a touch of sweetness. My dad was released from the prison of infirm old age last night. Too soon but still just too damn slow. His decline was more stark than my mom’s, whose prognosis can only be brought to the fuzzy outlook for all Alzheimer’s patients – “We just don’t know.”

At least we knew something of what was in store for mom, and the hope that dad could enjoy his twilight years despite her condition went gradually from bright to dim. He was so happy after they sold the house and moved to the assisted care apartment. It wasn’t his dream of independent living in Tennessee, but considering mom’s condition it was a pretty good deal. He could still drive, still go to a game or get her out to family gatherings on his own (the photo, from Christmas ’05, was the last time I saw them out together).

There are possibly several reasons for his decline. The obvious physical ones of type II diabetes, two falls that fractured a hip and then an arm, and a small stroke each took a toll for certain. But what of the emotional stress from seeing his life partner descend into a mental fog which necessitated them living separate lives while still married? She was the proverbial mother hen over their seven offspring, he the tried and true breadwinner who was comfortable not having much to say about the raising.

The staff at their facility said that a spot was available for mom in the Alzheimer’s care ward, which is for advanced cases. While she was not considered to be in the advanced stage, they recommended the move based mostly on what they said were rare openings. I’m not sure how the rest of my family feels about this, and I don’t recall the entire situation to a ‘T’, but in retrospect this strikes me as convenient for the staff and not very beneficial for my folks. There were other situations that held a similar stink (I’ll spare the details here), but this may have been the watershed event of my parents golden years, putting a tarnish to them from which my dad, as the only one who might have successfully pressed on, ultimately wasn’t able to.

In my highly subjective and inexpert opinion, my mom’s existence, basically unchanged in any positive way for more than a year now, seems cruel and pointless. My first visit after she moved to the ward left me nearly as shocked as I’ve ever been by anything. Seeing her condition and that of the other residents there was heartbreaking – small wonder that mom had declined so rapidly (again, inexpert opinion). So do I hope against hope that Alzheimer's sufferers, if not physically in pain, are given a weirdly blissful way to go with their inability to acknowledge what is going on? It's got to beat terminal cancer or ALS, where the sound mind wrestles the emotions that must come with seeing and feeling the hourglass empty.

I might say I'm at the end of my rope with the societal mores of end-of-life care, but the metaphor seems grossly unfair to my parents and, more importantly, my two sisters aka The Troopers. Not that they disagree, and not that they wouldn't have risen to the challenge as admirably and with as much fortitude as they have. I know that the “caregiver by geographic default” factor has exasperated them at times. I say this because I know it has left this apple feeling a bit helpless in his settling spot so far from the tree.

Such irony there is in a convicted murderer being executed and at last getting released from prison. Out of love we afford the mercy killing of our pets when they have reached the point where misery trumps living another day. But with our own species, society doesn’t take kindly to enacting the suffix “–icide” in any way shape or form when it comes to mercy. Send young people off to pointless death in combat (wrap it up in the flag and call it the cost of freedom), but By God Don’t Allow A Fellow Human To Pass From This Plane With Any Push Outside His Divine Hand.

I stand disgusted, dispirited and disappointed, and if I stand in small company, looked upon askance by “civilized” and “spiritual” beings, then so be it. I’m here to call BULLSHIT on the whole affair of “natural death” and say let this essay serve at least as a temporary living will that if I ever get to such a condition of inviability, my closest kin are hereby directed to procure the most efficient legal means (or not legal if they must and can without retribution) to expedite my demise.

Sadness with a touch of sweetness, and a good measure of bitter it turns out.

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Paula shared this. I just wanted to let you know this was a very touching and thought-provoking piece. Thank you.
O'Tim, I'm sorry. I hope for the best for you and your family. Oh, and your absolutely fuckin right.
Man, I'm sorry, Tim. Give my best to your family.

I have a different situation with my folks, but from what you say we've felt very similar things. I remember how hard it was to see mom after her first stroke, the biggest one. She was still talking and sitting up up you could tell that much of what was her essential personality - her "momness" had gone. I have to wonder if that isn't kinder, as you say, than Alzheimer's is. I've heard about and can imagine the frustration of having your mind and memories slip away from you slowly, you knowing that it's going but unable to stop it. Either way, it's a cruel fate. I fear for my dad as I notice that we have the same conversations over again more frequently. His saving grace is the fact that we've done this as long as I've known him, just not as often.

The documents are a good idea. Mom was very clear in print and spoken word that we were not to put her on any machines, for example.
i agree with your opinions about end of life stuff, tim. and i wish you and yours peace.
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