A Senior’s Struggle: How Long Do You Want to Live?

Sep 7th, 2009 | By Dr Jerry D Elrod | Category: Senior Moments Blog

Most people I talk to in privacy confess to wanting to live a long time.  When pressed on issues of quality of life, they admit that they do not want aggressive life saving measures imposed upon them, if they are unable to live “normally”.  This issue has lately received enormous attention because of the questions regarding euthanasia, and “pulling the plug on gramma.” 

It is  emotionally impossible for some to deal with the matter of choosing death under any circumstances. The fear of death and the irrationality for discussing it means that it is relegated to a taboo subject, which never gets dealt with rationally and in a timely manner.

Ironically, we spend the bulk of our lives preparing for each stage.  We attend school, we prepare for a career, we search for a mate, we have and enjoy children, we guide them as they make it through the stages of early life.  We are always at the task of preparing.  But when it comes to death, oh no!  That had best be kept under wraps.  It might get too touchy, too sensitive, too scary.  Likely it can, but it doesn’t have to.

A book I can recommend is “How We Die,” by Sherwin Nuland.  He is a physician and has gone through the throes of losing his mother and dealing with her last years prior to death.  He approaches the subject with rational  calm and enables the asking and answering of really tough questions.    

There is, to be sure, a mystery to death, but like life it proceeds from a normal flow and circumstances.  It is no surprise that each person will face it, our grandmothers included.  The question about when is a question to be dealt with individually and within the family.  But this question deserves resolution long before the threatening state of death is imminent. 

Standing in a circle around a bed in the ICU is no good time for discussing and debating the issue.  It is a time for respect.  It is at that moment that the only thing remaining is to act out the wishes of the person who is facing dying.  It is at that point that second guessing and emotional rationalizations need to be excused.

Allowing religious superstition, last minute miraculous interventions will not change the condition of the patient nor the dynamic about to take place.  Death is a given.  Facing it with dignity and allowing it to happen appropriately is an act of courage and grace.  Delay will not change the situation.  Denial will not alter the condition.   If this is a time for faith, then exercise it by letting the human being, who is in his or her own state of agony, go.  No dramatics, no hysteria, no “oh mama’s,” just say goodbye. Give permission to yourself and to the loved one to die in peace and harmony and acquiescence to the nature of  part of what it means to  be human. 

Allow the natural act of death to happen without scientific intervention to hang on uselessly, painfully, unnecessarily.  Great cost is exacted in the last month of a person’s life to sustain them.  It is a cost that allows “medicine” to play magician.  It is manipulation, not medication. 

Standing in the room of a loved one, holding their hand, is the moment for powerful love.  It is the moment for saying how much you love them, how much they have meant, how much they have given you and for letting go.  Doing that is not an exercise in futility or weakness.  On the contrary, it is the moment of greatest strength and enormous love.



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