Yesterday, we helped take over furniture and nick-nacks for my mother-in-law’s new residence – one room in a wait-to-die assisted living home. There are some wonderful things there for her. She can play cards to her content, complete puzzles, have her hair and nails done, visit the doctor, have her food prepared (to her satisfaction – really), have her room cleaned and her clothes laundered. As delightful as it may sound to many of you to be taken care of in that complete manner, it nauseates me. I looked at the elderly humans, as they stared out from their steadily weakening bodies from their wheel chairs, and wondered (once again), “what’s the point?” I have several friends who have chosen to plan their demise. I know several who think that this kind of complete care would be phenomenal.
On the ride over, I sat in the passenger’s side seat of the maintenance man. The other two cars were completely full. He told me that the deaths at the assisted living home tend to come in 3’s. He told me that there was one man who died within 3 months of his wife – who was a terrible person and treated him abominably. What not live longer without her aggravation? His opinion – he was a masochist who couldn’t live without the misery. He told me of the “Bitch Of ________” (I cannot say the name of the facility). She lives to make people miserable. He doesn’t allow that – calls her out on it, and she treats him better than she does the others. He believes that these people want to be treated normally – not like the old people they have become. Ask them for help, let them assist you – treat them as the once functioning people they once were. They like it. Of course they do.
What has any of this to do with me? Nothing, except ow I want to go out. Now we tend to house our elderly in homes away from families. When I grew up, we tolerated the elderly and their eccentricities in our homes. My great grandmother got passed around among her 11 (was it 12?) children. Once someone was worn out with her requests, she moved on to another grown child. I regret to say I have no idea where she was living when she died. My sister in law can’t care for my mother-in-law – she has a full-time job and my mother-in-law now needs 24 hour care. She has far and away made the right choice.
After we set up her room (which turned out very nice due to my sister-in-law’s care and shopping), we tried to leave but the doors were locked. An assistant told me that an alarm went off if you went out a door after 7:00 PM. We looked around for help but could find no one. Finally, we pushed the door open, and made our way out to the sound of the alarm. I looked back (rather anxiously – were they going to come get us?), but no one came. Then I wondered whether, if the inmates escaped, would anyone notice? No idea. I won’t be back there too many times. The sad old faces sadden me even more.
This facility does (I’m sure) all they can to create a life for these people who are at the end of theirs. They provide activities, take them places in their wheel chair accessible vans. They do much more than the patients’ families can offer at this point in their lives – we all live busy lives. Still, it seems so pointless. Isn’t life about living? When did it become about how long we can live? When did it become about how many medications we can take to extend our generally (at this point) pointless lives?
Many want their family members to live as long as possible. But for who’s benefit? So you can show up at Christmas to make yourself feel good? So you can send a card to that mother/grandmother/aunt/grandfather/uncle to let them know they haven’t been completely forgotten?
My father died at the age of 46. I certainly would have chosen to have him live much longer. But not to the point that he didn’t know where he was, who he was, what day it was, or (worse) who I was. There must be some quality to the quantity. At least that is my though process and my choice. I do not have the right to choose for you. But think about it when you want to plan for your own end of life phenomena. What do you want? Make certain your family members know.
In the meantime, I will on occasion visit my mother-in-law. More often, I won’t because I don’t live anywhere close to her. I hope she’s happy there, and that the previous alone hours will now be filled with new friends and new activities. I think she’ll be happy. It’s simply not what I want.