If you had an option of knowing how and when you were going to die, would you want to know?
We're all going to die. No one wants to die, at least no one who feels they have a life worth living. But that is the one certainty in life, we are all going to die.
Some of are lucky in that we know approximately when we're going to die. Of course some would say "Lucky?" Yes, I say lucky because at least they can get their life in order and plan an orderly and, hopefully dignified exit.
In a few weeks I'll be 73 years old. I may live another thirty years. And then I may die next week.
I often kid my friends that I don't have long to live. But to tell you how I really feel, I have no idea. I would like to live several more decade. However with one very important caveat, I want to live those years pain free and with dignity.
Bill, my 86 year old spouse, recently sent me link to an article titled "The Heartbreaking and Beautiful Faces of People Living With Alzheimer's Disease." In that article were a half a dozen black and white photos of men and women suffering from Alzheimer's.
The article stated "Alzheimer's disease is a far-reaching condition, one that rips through not only the lives of those who have personally suffered through the diagnosis bu the lives of family members, friends and caretakers who brush up against the illness as well. It can transform a loved one into a stranger, tunneling through relationships,, memories and routines until he familiar slips bleakly into the unknown. A brother, grandmother or husband's descent into dementia becomes an identity in itself. They are no longer themselves; they are captive to disease."
This morning I prepared our usual Monday morning laundry. Every Monday we was our whites. I gather up my underwear and socks and kitchen towels. Bill brings up his underwear and puts it on top of the trash hamper for me to add to mine when I do the wash. I put all the dirty clothes in and start the washer. Then I have breakfast. When the laundry is done, Bill puts it in the dryer and folds the laundry when it is done.
This morning as I was finishing my bowl of cereal Bill said "Why didn't you put my laundry in?" I looked and saw his dirty under still on top of the trash bin. I remember thinking when I put my laundry in that there wasn't much laundry. Now why didn't I think to put his laundry in?
Folks, it's these seemingly innocuous missteps like this that cause me to think "Is this the beginning of my slip into dementia and Alzheimer's?" And it's not just this one instance. There are times that I completely forget names of people that I know, that I see every day. I forget them. And I find myself trying to hide these lapses of memory much as my recently departed best friend Bob McC. did when I realized something was wrong with him back in 2001 when I just couldn't get it through his head how to retrieve his mail from his computer. I remember at that time saying to him "What's the matter with you Bob? You have Alzheimer's?" Of course I was joking but as it turned out he was showing the beginning stages of Parkinson's disease. For the next twelve years I watch him slowly descend into someone I didn't know.
|Me and Bob before his descent|
Bob and I used to ride around and sometimes joke about getting older and losing our minds. We asked ourselves "What would we do if we felt we started losing our minds?" I'm telling you folks, the way Bob went was not the way he would have chosen. It just snuck up on him.
My biggest fear is not that I would die, we're all going to die. My fear is HOW I'm going to die. Of course I don't want the pain. But perhaps even more so, when I die I hope it is with a degree of dignity. I don't know exactly why I feel this way, Bill says that people with dementia or Alzheimer's probably aren't even aware of their condition, they're in such a haze. I don't know about that. But the one thing I do know, that every time I miss something so obvious like not adding Bill's dirty laundry to the wash, like I do every Monday, causes me to worry "Am I going down that path to losing my mind?"
Last night I went to bed. I fell into a deep sleep as I often do when I sleep at night. I take an afternoon nap almost every day. Some days I have a solid two hour sleep. When I go into those deep sleeps it's like I died. That's what I imagine happens when you die, you just go into an unconscious state. No brain activity. That's not bad folks, that rest. An eternal rest for sure but rest.
We struggle all our lives to have a happy, loving and comfortable life.
I've been very lucky in that I have attained a comfort level that I am very happy with. I have some people who care for me and who I care for. Of course there are others who couldn't care less about me and even some who actively dislike me because I exercise my free will and life my life as I please and not according to they have decided in their hubris that I should live my life according to their rules. But for those few people who know the real me, the good and the bad, respect and care for me just the same; their love and understanding of me cancels out all their negativity.
I don't know what the tipping point for me will be if I find those "lapses" of my memory more frequent. I have a couple of tentative plans to short circuit any descent into the Hell of dementia. As the article and the photos said:
"The disintegration of the inner life hits the heart of human existence. Our whole life and heart is devoted to developing our personality. A confrontation with people who suffer from dementia can be frightening because their existence raises questions about our own lives."
Of course this morning's experience probably meant nothing. But I am of that age where every headache in the back of my head I think "Do I have a brain tumor?" and every time my chest hurts I think "Am I having a heart attack?" And then when I forget something so obvious as putting in all the wash I think "Am I losing my mind?" I guess the real test is when I do the wash but put it in the refrigerator instead of the washing machine.
The fact is that both of my Mother's older sisters ended their lives in a dementia haze (one was 89 and the other 93 years old). My Mother, the last six months of her live (she died at 86) was starting to slip. She kept confusing me and my brother's names. My father and none of his ten brothers had dementia when they died. So maybe there's hope for me. Maybe I'll still be writing this blog about my imminent death twenty years from now. Now wouldn't that be something?
|Mom (left) and her two older sisters - all suffered dementia - 2005|