Sunday, May 17, 2015

When to Die

Interesting cover article in the NYT magazine about someone with Alzheimer's deciding to take her own life before that life ceased entirely to have pleasure or meaning for her.…/mag…/the-last-day-of-her-life.html…

It makes a kind of broad inarguable sense from one ready point of view - 'ready' in the way that some understandings can seem to come: fully-formed, there before you've questioned them, steeped in a kind of "well, of course" pragmatism. And/but (those of you who know me know how I'm always tangling with when to use one or the other of those conjunctions; generally I opt for "and") the realm of my experience watching my father slowly wink out from Alzheimer's, and what I observed in how my mother handled it, makes this a real question for me. I think especially of my mother, who bore most of the brunt of my father's eventually complete dissolution - so damagingly at one point during the stifling heat of what I think was his last summer (may have been his second to last: he died in October 2000) that she had to be hospitalized from exhaustion - too many days and nights of lugging him into and out of bed & into and out of the bathroom,etc. (My mother was then about 81; my father about 85.)

Happily, almost up to the end, my father retained his affability - he was not made 'mean' by Alzheimer's, which of course can & does happen a lot. I used, possibly inexcusably (I am not in this regard a fan of Louise Hay), to muse that it was almost as if something in him CHOSE the erasure of Alzheimer's - it seemed so conveniently & efficaciously to eradicate his highly over-developed German meticulous (aka fussy) approach to doing almost anything - a trait which however never had swamped his childlike joy at life. But that childlike joy seemed in many ways to be released by the selective psychic & cognitive shut-down he underwent. He continued singing and drawing (he was deeply talented at both) virtually to the end: the right hemisphere thrived, so it seemed, way after the left side (language, analysis, memory) had atrophied.

It was a huge and painful slow (if at the end quick) deterioration. It occurred to me often during this period that had my father known the burden he would become to my mother, he never would have let it go on. But he did not know. And that he 'stayed' maybe permitted something much larger & more powerful to occur than if he hadn't. As with my brother whom I was with during his last painful days dying of AIDS in 1989, and finally with my mother, who died of congestive heart failure in July 2003, attending to her at the end of her life in the hospital bed to which she was confined in the living room of the house she and my father had turned into their much beloved home, I felt present during one of what seems to me undeniably the two strangest & most powerful moments in any existence: a 'natural' death (the other, of course, being birth).

This doesn't prod me to wax poetic particularly; neither does it prevent me from deeply understanding why someone would want to shorten their own or another a suffering person's tenure on the planet. There's abundant good reason to consider that. And of course there's already a countenanced euthanasia in place in what the attendant is medically encouraged to do at the very end: administer morphine to 'ease' the passage (which I did for both my brother & mother). But a deep core part of me is glad that each member of my family was able to die on, as it were, his or her own time.

I might get Alzheimer's - there's a 50/50 toss of the dice chance I would imagine. I'm very clear about what I'd like to happen. As soon as symptoms become at all debilitating, I want to be moved to a clean nursing home with at least perfunctorily humane/pragmatic care. I'd like a colorful weird mobile to be hung above my bed so I get to look at its kaleidoscopic shenanigans (my greatest talent is for amusing myself). I do not want to be fussed over. I'm hoping that anyone still around who loves me will not feel obliged continually (or maybe even ever) to visit me. I don't need that, and I have no fear of "dying alone" - which ultimately of course we all do. I won't even have to be in NYC (imagine!) - if all my social security and annuity can fund is a clean well-lighted place in (!!!) THE SUBURBS of somewhere, send me there. (Whew - it did take courage to write "suburbs". But Quentin Crisp died in fucking Manchester England, surely the last place he'd have chosen!) 

Don't make a big thing of it, but allow my physical contraption to go through whatever it must go through before it expires. Maybe I do see in that a kind of poetic justice: permitting the business of Being to follow through to its necessary end. That is, as one tries to do in the rest of life, to get out of its way.

Here's a pic I may have posted only once before. It's a tough one to look at. My brother in the last year of his life with my father in L.A.. I'll get out of their way & let them speak for themselves.


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