As I’ve written before, my dad and I shared an obsessive love for words. Recently, I read through a writing journal he kept before his stroke. Through his words, he is whole again, the writer of happy endings:
Up into the mountains
Up into the sky
We’ll never reach the top
unless we try
Up into the mountains
the stars shine bright
We won’t give up
without a fight
The going is rough
but we are tough
You’ll never hear
the word “Enough”
by Carl Thomas
In the past few days, I’ve had two conversations about end of life decisions. A friend’s aunt decided to discontinue dialysis. She’s 79 years old. Her husband died last year. Her thoughts are clear. As well, a friend’s father-in-law is experiencing severe complications from cancer and bladder surgery. He’s been through the cutting and the chemo (and all that goes with it) and at 72, he wants it to stop. The family wants him to do whatever it takes.
And I’m thinking about both situations. How fortunate they are to have the choice, almost a gift, when still right-minded enough to ‘receive’ it. Of course, following this thought is the question – is that selfish? As with many ideas in life (and death) there are two sides to consider.
At the time of our father’s stroke, I believe he would have preferred to die peacefully. He was unable to speak (this out-spoken, opinionated Italian male … redundant?). His primary right side was paralyzed and he would never walk again, never read again or pen a crossword puzzle. Initially, we weren’t even sure if he could swallow or how much he comprehended. Yet, he lived a relatively able, conscious and much-loved 10 more years before further decline.
His doctor told us the stroke was significant and he would have no quality of life if he lived, but he did … he lived well, for 10 of the 13 years he had left. Or maybe not. Perhaps he cursed us each day for not allowing him to go when it happened. It is all so difficult.
In the end though (no pun…) seeing what both parents went through, I’d like the choice. As well as the conversation with those who love me. I want them to understand my definition of ‘quality of life’. It may not be the same as theirs. I have a living will, but it goes far beyond that document. Pre-stroke, I don’t think my father ever thought he was going to die, yet even he had a living will.
Longevity runs on both sides of my family. My mother’s youngest sister says, “Give me a quick heart attack”, then snaps her finger, “Like that.” She is a healthy, active woman (just wallpapered and painted both of her bathrooms), mid-seventies. I want to age like her. And her genes run through me also … Like that!
And here is a great report on nursing home inspections from CT Watchdog, http://ctwatchdog.com/health/check-out-connecticut-nursing-homes-using-nursing-home-inspect-site