Old Age, Life, and Death

This past weekend I was able to travel and visit my family and grandmother out of state. Unfortunately, my grandmother is physically limited and requires the attention given at a nursing home.

Her ability to walk was lost many years ago; her body is weak such that basic functions, like sitting up straight, eating, and using the restroom, are nearly impossible for her to do on her own. Her ability to form thoughts is impaired by a mixture of old age and mind clouding medicines to relieve pain. She’s not the most capable person here, but she’s also not the least.

While joining her for lunch, it becomes very clear who is higher functioning and who requires more assistance. Some are able to eat on their own, some must be woken up and spoon fed only to fall back asleep.

I watched an interaction between two residents as they attempted to pick up a fallen napkin. The struggle was a good thing to watch and showed they were still living. The man was noticed the napkin and began a series of efforts to retrieve the napkin, shifting his wheelchair around, reaching down but unable to touch the napkin. The woman next to him had a good laugh when she told him to stick his gum to a stick and collect the napkin that way. She eventually engaged in this mental and physical challenge to ascertain the lost paper.

As sad as it was to see two unable to reach the floor from their seats, it was good to see them able to recognize the challenge and attempt to solve the problem. Others here, unable to lift their eyes or forks, seem dead in their chairs. Would I want to live that way — unable to communicate, form thoughts, feed myself, take care of myself?

When does a person’s life end, and when do they die? An easy answer is of course when the heart beat ends, but that’s too simple. The end isn’t that cut and dry.

Are people who are unable to form thoughts living? If they require two or three other people’s time to complete basic functions without being able to comprehend what is occurring and what others are doing for them, are they even alive? It’s hard to watch people suffer without being able to think or create in their mind.

I’ll be walking around the cemetery near here, thinking about how many people have died well before they enter that pine box.