“I hope your mom dies today.”
What would you think if you heard this exchange at your local beauty salon?
This was a conversation between me and my hairdresser/friend of over thirty years. We hugged and then glanced around to the shocked look on fellow patrons’ faces. To make matters worse, we then dissolved into uncontrollable giggles, realizing how terrible our words sounded, and yet how true the sentiment rings to those who have shared the experience of watching a loved one suffer the vicious afflictions of incurable diseases and the indignities and pain of a prolonged death.
My mom had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease, plus multiple other old-age infirmities, for many years while trying to care for Dad, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Her last few months, they ended up sharing a room at a nursing home, with Mom’s diseases quickly outpacing Dad’s. Her last few years of life were physically and emotionally painful, topped with an awful 21 days of hospice/deathwatch before succumbing to nature, just one day after the above conversation. My friend could empathize as she watched her own mom travel a road no one wants to walk for many, many years.
My friends are generally my age. Many of us have lost at least one parent, suffered and survived major health crises in our families, weathered most storms life throws, still proudly wearing our protective armor of humor.
Some of us have watched a loved one suffer a painfully slow, agonizing death. Those who have witnessed this often conclude that perhaps our medical advances are having unintended consequences. Old age is a universal goal, but the reality is often old, and sick, and confused and in pain. There is a reason why all those nursing homes are popping up on every corner, ready and willing to take every bit of the money earned over a lifetime in exchange for a few months or years of care. If you live long enough, you lose your friends, your spouse, your independence, your health, your dignity and often your mental capacity and memories. The body goes on. Yes, there are exceptions, we have some in our own family, but healthy old age and a peaceful drift-off in sleep are not the reality for most.
It seems to me our medical advances succeed in delaying death, but not necessarily extending life.
One of my best friends just lost her father this week. She said she was sad for herself, but happy for him. She finally had a full night’s sleep, and felt as if a black cloud was lifted.
If I had to choose between a long life or a life well-lived, I know which I would pick. I don’t want that extra time spent at the end of life as much as I want my life now. Perhaps instead of wishing for old age, we should all wish for the ability to enjoy each day to the fullest, and appreciate what’s all around us, if we just look.