I look at elderly people and I see their white hair, their bent backs, their limps, some of which are slight, others more distinguished. Often you can see the pain on their faces. They have lived full lives of which we can only imagine their stories.
Some people look at the elderly and feel a deep sense of compassion, perhaps even mustering up stories which the said person may or may not have lived. When I see the elderly, all I can think is, “I don’t want to live to be that old.”
I think this is sad and I feel guilty about it, yet it does not change. My great grandmother was 106 when she died. I remember her. I remember the special toilet that was assembled for her use. I remember that she could no longer see to do her precious embroidery. She could not boil water or even peel an orange. She couldn’t even make it to the restroom without assistance. I don’t want to be like this.
I had a very brief period in my life in which I was humbled enough to the extent that I was completely reliant on others. Like my great grandmother, I needed help just to make it into the restroom and to get on and off of the toilet. I could not bathe myself. Although I used a walker, I could not even manage it without assistance. I could not dress myself. If it involved my legs in any manner, no matter how slight, I was not able to do it. I was a self-sufficient, 36 year old single mother who lived in a town with some friends and absolutely no family. As was usual for my personality, when I realized that something was terribly wrong, rather than calling an ambulance as I should have, I drove myself to the hospital – the whole time trying to reach someone at work to let them know that I would not be in.
For three weeks, my parents moved in with me. They left their home, their friends, their jobs, to come and take care of my children and I. Once I was well enough that I could at least shower on my own (with the use of handicap contraptions), my mother returned to her job. My father stayed with me another three weeks and would have stayed longer, but I finally kicked him out.
I had to buy all new makeup for my new medicines caused problems with the old makeup. I had to buy a new car because I could no longer get in and out of my SUV. I had to buy new clothes to accommodate my ever swollen leg and the weight gain that would follow. It’s been over a year and I’m still in the recovery stages. I have permanent damage and will likely struggle for the rest of my life, but I can at least fool those who don’t know me into thinking all is well. In fact, I believe that most of my friends forget that there is anything wrong with me.
I take this relatively short period of time and remember with dread what it was like to rely fully on others and I am reminded again and again that I don’t want to live like that. My circumstances were temporary, but an elderly person only continues to get worse. I want to die while I’m still actually living. Is that really so horrible?