Wednesday, February 06, 2008

It’s a Tricky Thing

“I've always thought that one of the worse things in the world would be to live to be really old & feeble. I'm torn about the assisted suicide thing. I don't want to be in a physical/mental situation where I'm helpless & useless. (Who would?) …
“But then I suspect that the closer you get to death the more you cling to life... And like the aging athlete, does anyone ever really know when they're washed up? ...
“It's a tricky thing.”
KP (aka, “Seven of Nine”)

Remember when “assisted suicide” was a joke for old people who weren’t, we always assumed, giving up much? So, what’s the deal with assisted suicide, eh? But now, it’s different. We’re beginning to figure out what life would be if… if WE got older. Who’s laughing now, monkey boy?

For many of us old enough to be called “crones” we have become caregivers of our parents – who are now older than old. I don’t particularly like the word “crone” because it conjures that scene in Macbeth where three witches stir a bubbling cauldron. To me that word carries some negative baggage of pre-liberated womanhood, and low self esteem. I wear flowing purple robes, and scarves of lavender pink.. I neither dye my graying hair, nor wear it up like the elderly. I wear my hair long and trailing behind my head like a dusty comet’s tail. I’ve lost my looks but gained 20+ pounds of wisdom. Lucky me, I’m frickin’ magic.

Which - to get back to getting even older than old - is why I’d prefer not to seek the refuge of yesterday. Sure, I don’t want to surrender to intellectual entropy any more than the next old lady, but I don’t want to hide beneath some myths from prehistory. I don’t want to explain who I am in terms of what’s in the past.

Of course, this line of thought reminded me of my own past. When I was a know-it-all of about 30, I watched my ex-MIL care for her mother - who was then in her mid-90s. Nana no longer knew most people, and spoke mostly in her native Polish. By day, Nana sat in a rocking chair and knitted a single skein of cheap, fat, neon pink yarn into a 8 - 10” wide scarf. By night, ex-MIL would unwind the day’s knitting, and roll the Sisyphean ball of yarn back to the sewing basket.

Then, I was a smug size 8. I thought it was a heartless, endless, cruel chore. But ex-MIL was in her sixties, about where I now find myself in This Pageant, Life. Now, I see that scene of mother and daughter re-enacting Penelope’s glorious Trojan War Tapestry. By day, Penelope would weave the story to put off her aggressive suitors. By night, the Queen would un- weave her day’s work, as she waited for Ulysses to make it back from war.

I see the world from both sides now. Tonight, I offer a prayer for the peace of the lonely elderly – wide-eyed and awake through the dark nights, and nodding off during the fuzzy days. Tonight, like Penelope, I pray: Please, try to get home before dark.


nina said...

You've captured the essence of age--trying to get home before dark.
That's lovely, bitter sweet thoughts.

Annie in Austin said...

This is quite an essay, Weeping Sore - and adds more dimension to to something I read yesterday. There was an article dealing with choosing when to exit in the Tuesday Science Section of the NYTimes - did you happen to see it?

Annie at the Transplantable Rose
[also wearing a dusty comet's tail]

greeny said...

Ah, very lovely and bitter sweet as nina said.

Lots to say, just don't now how to begin.
This subject matter of living out life in less than aware fashion hits close to home.

No Rain said...

This is a wonderful, thought provoking post. I, too, have seen both sides now and things look different on this side of the hill. I'm still trying to give this life one last push!

SevenOfNine said...

While I'd like to think that I would "take myself out" rather than linger on in some pathetic, dependent state, there is something to be said about letting life take it's course. I had the privledge of nursing my mother as she waited for death, under at-home hospice care. Had lots of help from sibs. Mixed in with the awful parts (and there were awful and trumatic parts), there was some good. Being able to "do" for such a wonderful mother was a gift. Of course, my Mom was incredibly wonderful and dignified even in her undifified state. She remained kind, appreciative and loving in her last days. I often wonder whether, if I had a choice, I would choose that ending. My Mom suffered. It was exhausting for everyone. All of that. And yet, I had time to just "be" with my Mom while we knew she was going to die. It helped tremendously that my Mom didn't mind talking about her death and she had great faith. (Although when I asked her point blank if she was scared to die she answered quietly - to my great surprise given her faith - "yes". My response was something like, well I can understand that feeling. I'll be with you. How intimate is that? So I guess the real question is, what does it mean to "let life take it's course" given the amount of medical intervention that is available these days. Now I'm thinking that I might just take the more passive route like my Dad who simply stopped taking his heart medication and let life take it's course in the form of a quick but massive heart attack. I wonder what he was thinking when it finally came.