“Does it hurt?” is a question I have recently heard.
My generation might have considered our lives to last 3 score years and ten. Today, with an increasing proportion of the population possibly living beyond a century, especially if female, with the benefit of advanced medical care, we can hope to enjoy a fruitful time in retirement – can’t we? Here’s the ONS tool to see what is your probability to reach 100.
I’m aware of someone who has voluntarily entered residential care, purely for respite, but now has moved into nursing care. Not voluntarily I might add, for the long slow bewildering reach of dementia has progressively, menacingly, taken its toll. The contents of the house have gone, distributed according his partner’s dying wishes to charity, and now the sale of the house has been completed – providing vital financial benefit to pay for the now essential nursing care. After nigh on 9 decades, what has life given this person?
His memories are crystal clear – at times. Many return sporadically, with no coherent structure, often not chronological, but when those memories are evident they bring such joy. The smile reappears, the warmth of that moment is rekindled. Sadly the eyesight doesn’t allow continued reflection of the myriad of photographic albums his generation collated and safely stored – what of the current generation? will their photographs be in the correct format when they might need them?
The pictures, tapestries, artifacts, ornaments and collection of DIY tools (many now unable to be used due to a lack of suitable plugs (!), transformers or attachments) have now gone, their capability of providing that necessary trigger for distant memories lost. He still has a photograph of his wife, well actually two photographs, duplicated, so that wherever he looks he can see her radiant smile, her loving gaze, her youthful looks, as it was taken half a century ago – does it matter?
Computer prints of photographs of the cat also adorn the wall, often initiating thoughts that the cat is still around, looking for his room. With dementia our memories may be infiltrated by odd thoughts, improvisations of reality, which cloud our understanding. Apart from his clothes, these are his possessions now. After nearly 90 years, this is what is left from all the hard work, the saving, the extra shifts, the scrimping where necessary. It does provide food for thought about what our lives, that work that we do, actually means in the end.
Currently he sleeps, is fed, and then he returns to sleep again – left to his thoughts and dreams. The photograph of his wife and cat allowing a portal back into what was reality, even if for a brief moment.
“I want to go to sleep and not wake up” is a comment often heard.
I initially tried to change the argument to something which I saw as positive; but then I spent some time trying to ponder what he said from what I perceived was his perspective. If he can remember what life was like in the past, albeit briefly, how does his current life compare?
Does it hurt? Apart from the infrequent nausea and UTIs, I am not sure. The advanced medication can numb our senses, allowing ‘life’ to continue. But what of mental anguish?
When we sit with him, our hand caressing his hand, the occasional squeeze to confirm our presence, we can feel an intimacy not experienced since my childhood. Knowing that he is loved, appreciated. We ask him for advice, to confirm that he is still our ‘go-to’ person, to confirm that he is still valued, needed, regardless of his actual answer. We sit with him as he falls asleep again mid-sentence, assured that he is resting, hoping that he is free from anxiety, so evident when awake.
His life is very much being now….
….rather than doing.
I read a quote today that asked “why has God not allowed their father to join his wife who died many years ago?”
“I don’t know” is my answer. My prayers are for his peace and I have to entrust the situation to God, pleased, if that is the right word, that I can speak to God about his life, his anxiety, his pain. We may not know, often do not know, why God acts as we perceive. Humanities actions are often disregarded here as focus the whole problem entirely upon God. I am convinced that God loves all, and in this moment calls us to love all also. I wonder whether our desire for medical advancement has given us an opportunity to love, albeit in such a difficult situation. I wonder what it is like for the person surviving, living, wishing to sleep forever.