OT: Sad times
Last week, I heard from my stepsister (my stepfather M’s daughter). I have not seen her or talked with her in over 20 years — we never got along all that well. She told me that M had fallen at his assisted-living facility and broken his hip, and he was in a rehab center. That he was probably near the end.
He’s 96, and has been deteriorating steadily for the past couple of years. The news did not surprise me, but it’s still sad.
I think M had a purpose in his life when my mother was still alive and suffering from dementia. He went to see her every day and was so completely devoted to her. After she died in 2012, he began to slowly decline.
His eyesight started failing, and he was no longer able to drive, which completely removed his independence. He couldn’t do any of his hobbies anymore, like fishing and golfing. He couldn’t even read, which he loved to do. Even the littlest pleasures were taken from him: he used to love soaking in a hot bath, but when he could no longer get himself out of the tub, the baths had to stop. Most of his friends had passed and his life narrowed into the hours between sleep spent sitting in his room watching TV.
He had to remind himself to eat, because he had no appetite. His once tall and robust body shrunk into bones, his flesh hanging from them.
Why do people have to go on this way? What kind of life is this? When I called him and asked how he was, his answer was always a sigh and “Well, I’m still here.” But he never complained. He was miserable, but he still made his usual jokes and faces and tried to be brave.
After I heard from his daughter, John and I went to the rehab center yesterday to see him. The drive was horrible; we were in traffic all the way, the setting sun glaring in my eyes, and when we finally got off the freeway, I discovered that the Mapquest directions had been incorrect and we got lost. My phone, which is older, kept screwing up when I tried the Navigation, giving me directions to go to “2445 2nd Street” when I asked for “24452 Xxxxxx Drive.” John’s phone finally got us there, but nothing prepared me for how bad M would look.
He lay in the bed, his feet sticking out the bottom, his hair wild around his head. We greeted him, and he just stared at us. His arms twitched and trembled. The nurse was feeding him his dinner, wiping his mouth when he slobbered the food. She asked me if I’d like to feed him. I said no. There’s no way I could handle that.
We sat by his bed, and I tried not to look at his toenails, which I’ll have nightmares about for the rest of my life, I think. He didn’t interact with us for about 45 minutes, but then he started mumbling things, trying to talk to us, but we couldn’t understand a lot of what he was trying to say. One thing we did comprehend was when he kept grabbing at the bars on the bed and muttering, “Wanna get out of here.” He kept thrusting his legs to the side of the bed, like he was trying to swing them off. Poor thing. John moved his legs back and we both kept telling him, “No, you can’t go home now. You have to rest, and get better, and then you can leave, OK?” But he won’t be leaving. He’s 96, for Christ’s sake. He is stubborn, but his body is saying enough already.
The doctor wouldn’t tell me anything, because I’m not blood family. So we hung out for an hour and a half, just being with him. Even got a tiny smile out of him toward the end. He still kept grabbing at the bars, so I gently disengaged his fingers and held his hand, which still had a pretty decent grip. Then I kissed the top of his head, said I loved him, and we left. I managed to get out of the hospital before I started to cry.
Fortunately, there was no traffic on the drive back. It was after eight, and we both needed to eat. I was glad John came with me. I don’t think I could have stood it by myself. I’m so done with all this… first my dad, then my mother, and now my stepfather. John is still dealing with it, with his mother, whom he visits every single week without fail, but I no longer go with him. I still will have to deal with my stepmother’s passing eventually, but I know she will not allow herself to linger for years with illness or dementia. She has already told me that she has plans and orders in place, if her health starts to deteriorate, to move her to Oregon or Washington, where euthanasia is allowed. “I will not be a burden to my loved ones,” she said flatly and emphatically. I get it. I will feel the same way.
What a backward country we live in, one in which only five states out of fifty allow a person to legally die with dignity. Where we kindly put our pets out of their pain, but force our humans to go on and on and on, suffering with the indignities and illnesses of age, of existence without a shred of quality. And please, please don’t tell me that it’s God’s will. It’s OK if you believe that, but I do not, and I really don’t want to hear it.
Anyway. Now we wait. I spoke to his daughter again tonight, and she promised to keep me posted. All of a sudden she’s acting like I’m her best friend, which I don’t trust at all. She’s always been kind of crazy. But I will be civil.
Enough. All this crying is making my face hurt. Sorry for the unloading.