Sunday, January 22, 2012
The end times...
A friend of mine pretended to be horrified when I mentioned that I didn’t have the time or the money to visit my dying aunt. My youngest brother is taking care of this aunt at her home, which is 600 miles away from where I live, and 300 miles away from where he actually lives. He can do this because he’s not employed full-time right now. In fact, his “job” is now taking care of this dying person. He is learning a lot; he is learning things I don’t want to learn. I am mature enough to hear him talk about it, though. In years past, I might have avoided such topics. Death makes me uncomfortable.
Death was one of the reasons I became depressed when I was a teenager. When I discovered that it actually happened to people, I was confounded. A counselor I’d had at summer camp had been killed by a motorist as she walked on the tree-lined road near my school. I remember obsessing about her death: “But she had plans! She had hopes and dreams! It doesn’t make sense!” Which segued into: “So, what’s the point? Why bother?”
There were other reasons (discrimination against women, for one) that I was assuring myself it was not worth bothering to have “dreams and plans,” but right now I’m talking about death. The best people are doing it. People who have aged enough to know better. Why are they leaving us? Do they not care? As my brother says (sometimes with tears) “a whole generation will be lost.” He has loved this generation—his parents, his aunts. He feels they were harder workers, had more integrity, more courage. He’s probably right. My aunt (who is 91) worked in a home for the retarded and mentally disabled. She put up with low pay, little social regard, physical danger from the people for whom she was caring, and finally, an attempt to oust her before she’d qualified for her pension. She put my mother through nursing school. She never married because she thought she was “ugly.” She loved art and tried her hand at watercolors. She had friends, most of whom are dead. She is modifying and improving my brother’s cooking skills via her specific demands of the moment. She is a toughie. But cancer is eating her insides. She won’t go to a hospital, but hospice people visit. There’s oxygen (my brother rigged up a tube to go up the stairs, because her upstairs power outlets are out of date). My brother also cleans up after she’s had an “accident.” This is becoming more frequent.
She’s not the only one. Relatives of co-workers are going through these final days, and people have to take time off from work to hold vigils. My parents are approaching this journey, perhaps, being only a few years younger than my aunt. I don’t know what I will be called upon to do. And it may be that I won’t do it. I’m still working, I tell myself. I have no time. I have no travel money. It’s not something I want to face yet. And it will happen to me.
Baby boomers—who are probably one of the first American generations to be sheltered from death (except for those who went to Vietnam)—must now minister to their dying loved ones. No one escapes. First, the introduction to the process. Then, the invitation. Twenty or so years apart, but one follows the other.
Posted by Marylyn