A friend of mine wrote a really fun book several years ago, the first word of which was supposed to be “Whores!” This opener created a scandal in his family such that he felt if he kept it, he would be less welcome by his father than Hitler (a father, by the way, who loved to tell dead baby jokes to strangers).
I don’t recall if he did in the end, keep the word, but that being said, my proposed original title for this work, “Die Already!” had a similar effect in my world.
Since this is a book about taking taking care of aged parents, it seemed to others exceptionally cruel to say out loud what I think most caretakers of the elderly are secretly thinking. While nodding and smiling as their elderly father is giving his fifteenth report on poop for the day, they are, I assure you, wishing this parent would take a powder.
I realize this is an unfair and admittedly unproven generalization – be aware, I do this often – and those altruistic souls who have never thought such a thing are no doubt looking at this with open mouthed horror as my sister did when I first mentioned it as the title and “A joy filled journey in to the world of elder care.” as the tag line.
Well, let me tell you something fellow caretakers… in some way you have thought it even if you don’t know you thought it. Caring for an aging and infirm parent just brings that out and it’s okay to recognize the feeling.
There, I said it. It’s out there: It’s okay to occasionally wish someone dead. However, and I believe a brief scan of the law will reveal, it is not okay to kill someone, nor is it ultimately okay to neglect them and let them fade away if that is not their wish.
WHAT GOES HERE TO TRANSITION? I have a question for old people who are now living lives of infirmity and dependence, “What are you living for?” You have lived a full life and are now living a relatively empty life which just sucks resources from the tribe. If you were an eskimo, you would be out on an ice floe by now.
For example, my father goes through a surprisingly large number of tissues, paper towels and napkins. Despite the availability of reusable towels etc… he uses whatever paper is at hand to blow his nose, clean the tip of his catheter bag, dry himself, dry the dishes.
And now, with the advent of his dementia, there is little hope of changing this behavior. Apparently kicking and screaming on my part only makes me sweat. A kindly appeal for the trees rarely moves him any more than the presence of his grandchildren does.
And if you think my dad has any love in his heart for his grandchildren, he recently looked at my son who was visiting and asked, “Who is this gentleman?”
My mother on the other hand, wasn’t a resource abuser in the classic sense. She did maintain a $60 weekly hairdressing appointment right up to the bitter end though. She had been doing this for forty years which, taking in to consideration compound interest, would basically be about a quarter of a million dollars. I did the math.
She also had a pretty nasty Jean Nate´ habit. Not costly overall, but she kinda wore that stuff like a french whore – oooppss. There is that word again.
And now you are thinking how horrible it is that I judge my parents so harshly when all they want(ed) to do was live out their lives peacefully and quietly.
Well, this isn’t about you and your horror and it isn’t about my parents. This is about death. Good old death.
Are you done being horrified yet? Well, you may wonder how I am going to go out. Will it be kicking and screaming? I know that so far, you may hope that I do just to prove some kind of point.
You are more than likely right. Still, I have to go back to a time when I was 10 years old and walking with my brother to tell you a little about my own relationship with death which started early..
My brother has this thing about being my older brother. It is something he takes seriously and though I honor the love that drives, it has come out in some funny ways over the years.
For instance, he will randomly recall something that happened before I was born and then note that I wouldn’t remember it as though, having been born when I was, was more in the order of a character flaw of some kind.
It is burdensome and exhausting.
To wit, I ask you to flash back with me to 1971 when times were less complicated, AT&T was the only game in town and we used tons of paper without thought. My brother and I were heading back from his paper route and he was suddenly struck with a big brother moment.
“How old are you? 10?” He delivered this in a serious, adult like tone that can only come from a 15 year old.
“Yeah 10.” I replied scuffing my sneakers on the pavement and contemplating diving and rolling behind a bush just for the fun of it.
“Well, you know, it’s really time you started to think about things like life and death.” He laid this out like a college professor who knows everything about the topic of life, death and what 10 year olds should be thinking about.
And that is just the sort of crap you get from an intellectual scion of a family filled with Harvard graduates. Not, “It’s really time you went to your first Yankees game.” or “It’s really time you got laid.”
My first thought was, “It’s about time I started thinking about life and death? Really?” I mean, that is all I had been thinking about for my entire life. Well, besides diving and rolling behind bushes and making out with the neighbor girl.
This is true. I had been thinking about life for quite a while, but more so, the death aspect of it. I was obsessed about it. I had dreams that I was dead or dying. I used to get upset about the idea that couples who were married might die separately from each other and be lonely – a fairly unrealistic view of modern marriage, but it was all I knew.
At four I approached my father while he was shaving and mentioned that I couldn’t wait until I was dead. Being the cold- hearted chemist that he is, he didn’t bat an eye or even seem remotely concerned that his 4 year old son was having suicidal thoughts; but he did ask, “Why do you say that?”
“Well, then I wouldn’t have to worry so much about things.” I had just come from a bout of concern that my Aunt Harriet might die before my Uncle Harvey because she smoked cigarettes.
“Well, that’s a kind of sorry out look on life don’t you think?” my dad replied as he finished his last scrape of the razor and then dropped the blade in to the little slot that used to be in all medicine cabinets.
I shrugged, “Yeah, I guess.” and roamed away, probably to dive and roll on the front lawn. It would be a year before the neighbor girl and I started making out, so that wasn’t on the agenda.
Starting out so young relating to death in such an odd way has given me a different perspective on death than most people. And though I resist the end of life, I have finally come to the conclusion that I love death.
I think it is beautiful and even more so after being with my mother as she took her final breaths. And yet, with the exception of Elizabeth Kubler Ross, we aren’t talking about it. How sad.
You know, I mentioned to a woman I was contemplating dating that I love death and she got freaked out. “No, no. Don’t say that. You shouldn’t think that! No. No.” Needless to say we didn’t get to that first date.
I do understand that this is just about the least appropriate topic to get in to with someone you would like to share wine and appetizers with, but it came out during a deep conversation about life, what we are passionate about and all that.
It fit in to the conversation, I swear…
I must add here to that the problem with death is not that it ends life or takes loved ones away or can be horrifically tragic art times. The problem with death is us. We are constantly surprised and denying its existence despite the fact that we are surrounded by it at all levels.