Have you ever had someone close to you recognize that death is not just inevitable, but that it is likely to come in the nearer, rather than farther, future? I am close with some elderly people who have said to me “getting old is for the birds” and even “sometimes I wish I could just die.” We all know someone who’s a bit elderly. Perhaps it’s a parent or an uncle. Maybe it’s a neighbor who still lives alone independently, and you check on her.
I have several in my life (not counting myself). So, in July of 2011 I was quick to read a column by Steve Lopez of the Los Angeles Times entitled “Waiting in the dark with Dad.” In it he told about his elderly father taking a fall one night and his mother, unable to get the father up, waiting through the night with him until they could get to an emergency room.
For other folks, incurable and advancing disease rather than age may be the primary driver of impending death. Still, many of the end-of-life concerns are similar. What does one do to set things straight? How does one face the prospect of being a burden on others? Will there be pain and suffering? Which trip will be the last and how much fun can one wring out of it? Will that advance medical directive be honored? (My sister suggested she might have “Do Not Resuscitate” tattooed on her chest!)
After examining his own parents’ situation, Mr. Lopez has delved into the topic more broadly. The result has grown into a series of articles discussing divergent views of problems faced by elderly folks. Over the past few months I’ve passed along links to and discussed that first and several other columns by Mr. Lopez about his thoughts on his ailing father’s end-of-life situation. The Times has collected a dozen (as of today) of Mr. Lopez’s related columns and has them displayed together under the headline “Matters of life & death.”
Meanwhile, it’s great to have palliative care programs such as Hospice (ask your doctors and nurses) and support services via Family Caregiver Alliance (search “end-of-life care”; it’s a US org, but I imagine there are comparable or better orgs in other countries) and Compassion in Dying (also mentioned in one of Mr. Lopez’s columns). This dying stuff is worth discussing. Thanks to Mr. Lopez for talking about it.
I hope you read all the articles, but I recommend you start with the one about Mr. Lopez’s mother waiting in the dark with his father.