Sunday, April 10, 2005

When A Living Will Is Not Enough

Sometimes even a living will and a "Do Not Resuscitate" will not suffice. What are you going to do at the end of your life, when you can not will yourself to die, but your life is simply over?
My step-father is 95 years old. He spent last night crying, wailing, screaming for his mother. My twin brother, sister, and mother were with him and yet he wept, moaned, and begged to be hit on his head to end his misery. My step-father has Alzheimers, a pacemaker, congestive heart failure, prostate cancer (in remission), and hypertension. Why he is still alive is both the miracle and curse of modern medicine. The doctors have done all that they can, and I do mean ALL to keep him alive, but no one-- NO ONE-- can or will help this poor man die. He can't will himself to death. He can't ask us, the family he has known for only the past 13 years (yes, my mother married an 82 year old man when she was 67 and a new widow herself) to help him end his life, and his two sons live far way and don't seem involved. My step-father is a lovely man. Good natured, kind and sweet. He worked hard all of his life. He was a plumber, and then had his own plumbing company. When we first met him, he was already old but fairly healthy, although he had already had prostate cancer. Whenever we spent time with him, he would awaken in the morning, come out in his robe, and sing to us:
Good morning to you
Good morning to you
We're all in our places
With bright shining faces
Good morning, teacher.
This was a song he memorized in first grade. My step-father is an innocent. He is lost in time. He is the living dead, a man with a pacemaker, but dreamless and futureless, and hopelessly alive. He is suffering an agony that makes him weep and wail long into the night. "Mother help me" he cries. "Mother help me."
You think this won't happen to you or someone you love? Think again. And with this new culture of life being jammed down our collective throats, we won't be able to pass "assisted suicide" legislation without endless court battles. In the meantime, the elderly in our culture are living their end of days in hell.
What would you do?

dpr's words

RD's stepfather is dying, and having a difficult time of it. he is a kind and decent man. he was a tradesman, a plumber, a big, strong man. i had the pleasure of carrying some awkward, heavy things with him. he had that sense of a working man of feeling the inert thing and the person on the other end.

i met him in 1992, when he was 82, just before he married my widowed mother-in-law. i was honored to carry a corner of the chuppah. i did know my wife's father. he was a gentle, loving man and sam is the same sort. sam and i got to be close pretty quickly. he appreciated that i worked with my hands, although i have also done business stuff at a desk. he gave me his tools that he had kept after retiring long ago. my own grandfathers were nice but a bit distant. one died when i was young and the other i got to know longer but he was a bit gruff. i was 50 when i met sam and he was like a new grandfather, kinder and closer than the ones i remember, even though the actual age difference would have made him more my father. i came to understand that i was the son/grandson he never had. he did have actual sons and grandchildren, but for whatever reason they were not so close emotionally.

so my friend sam is dying and i am a thousand miles away. he has been in decline for many months. now he is scared, barely lucid, probably has some degree of alzheimers. last night was the worst yet. my wife's twin brother and her sister are with sam and my mother-in-law. they are in tears. sam is in dire distress. he asked, in a very rare moment of semi-calm lucidity to be hit on the head. he has lived so long on modern medicine's miracles of pacemakers and drugs, and modern medicine can't legally help him with the inevitable end of life. of what use is compassion if we can't use it?

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