Jeff’s Great Aunt has been in a nursing home for awhile now. Last week after speaking to his mother about his Great Aunt’s condition, it sparked a conversation between the two of us about growing old, and how we as a society do not allow for that to happen gracefully.
My father’s parents passed when I was still fairly young, his father when I was in middle school and his mother when I was in high school. His father had prostate cancer, so although he went through a terrible ordeal, he wasn’t in a nursing home for a long time. His mother had a sudden heart attack and passed that day.
My mother’s parents were pretty healthy and sharp for the good majority of their lives. Her father worked into his 90’s, cleaning at a local pizza place. He even mowed his yard at that age. He was an amazing man with determination to live, and keep his mind sharp. He read every day. But he was a man of few words. They both pretty much had a fairly rapid decline once aging really took hold. Fortunately they were not in a nursing home for a really long period of time. I remember feeling sad when I took Garrett and Lydia to visit them, knowing that their quality of life was no longer very good, and that my children wouldn’t have very many memories of them. But I was lucky to have them in my life well into my 30’s. I have a vivid memory of the kids feeding Grandpa Great, which they still remember to this day.
Jeff’s Great Aunt hasn’t been as lucky. She has been in a nursing home for about a year now. And her quality of life, well, it’s less than desirable. Really, it’s non-existent. At this point she is just a shell of human being. Her mind is gone, she often asks for her mother, who passed a very long time ago. She has no desire to do anything other than lie in bed or sit in a chair. She refuses to eat or even drink much. She often says she wishes she would just die. What a horrible existence to have! My heart breaks every time Jeff’s mom talks about it and her condition.
So after talking to Jeff’s mom the other night, Jeff and I had a conversation. We both agree that we don’t want to live like that, PLEASE don’t let me be a shell of a human being. But how can we control that? There really is nothing we can do. Jeff made the comment that we treat our animals more humanely than we treat humans. And he is so correct. If our pet is suffering or has a terminal illness, we euthanize them. In a humane, peaceful way. We take them out of their misery and allow them to go on to the next world, and not live in constant pain. But humans? We just let them suffer and live, if that’s what you can call it, a life of misery. At this point their mind is gone, they have no idea of their surroundings or what year it is, no desire to live. They are in pain, they are suffering. They are miserable. So why, as a society, do we feel that this is an acceptable way of allowing our elders to end their lives? I don’t want mine to end that way, why would I want anyone’s life, especially those I care deeply about, to end like that? There just has to be a better way to take care of the elderly in this stage of life. But what is the answer? I don’t know, but I can tell you, I hope they find one before I reach that stage of life.