So, J-P, another Thanksgiving
holiday is over! What will you remember about it?
Why, hello there! I'm so glad you asked!
remember my brother's little rat terrier getting into a screaming,
barking, howling fight with a dachshund puppy. (Both unharmed, thank
I'll remember my brother's distress at discovering that he'd
narrowly missed the opportunity to buy a genuine Hammond organ --
needing possibly only minor repairs -- for the kingly sum of $4.96.
remember getting to meet my sister's new puppy, a Vizsla (a thoroughly
adorable retriever-pointer breed) who amusingly combined a strong desire
to romp and play with me, with an unconquerable shyness that made her
run away every time I looked at her.
Well, that's all well and good, J-P, but what's the one moment that will stick with you for the rest of your life?
Oh, that's easy. It was my grandmother
telling me she wished she could die.
(significant pause while J-P goes out to watch the sunset
My grandmother turned 100 in September, and has been heading
downhill ever since. Her appetite
has dropped to near nothing, she's
lost a tremendous amount of weight, she has very little energy, and has
had several minor falls. She's often too tired to walk, even with
assistance, from the bedroom to her kitchen, and she prefers to spend as
much time as possible in bed, where she at least knows she won't be in
danger of falling.
My parents have been living with her since October, both wishing
they could go home and take care of their own house and live their own
lives. They know that the only way to get her healthy enough to live on
her own again is to get her eating normal meals again so she can put on
some weight and have enough energy to exercise when the physical
therapist comes to visit.
My parents are frustrated that she won't eat, and my grandmother is
frustrated at their frustration
, and terrified of dying. She knows she
should eat more, but she genuinely can't eat more than a few bites of
My parents' frustration sometimes leads them to speak harshly and
angrily to her -- and it's hard for me to blame them. When I lived in
the same town with her, she would often drive me to fits of extreme
frustration even when she was perfectly healthy
. If I were in their
situation, I suspect I would be just as frustrated and unhappy. It's
hard giving up your life for an uncertain future -- and watching all
your efforts to make improvements fail over and over.
They've talked about putting her in a nursing home
, but even though
my grandmother knows it would be one of the best solutions for all of
them, she can't help being almost as terrified of nursing homes as she
is of death itself. And my parents aren't really happy with the idea
either -- they don't want her to be alone
, and they don't
want to have to worry that someone will drug her into unconsciousness
just so they won't have to deal with her. None of them like the idea
that in order to afford more than a few months of nursing home care,
they'd have to sell everything she owns so she'd qualify for Medicaid.
She's frustrated and frightened and exhausted and ashamed and she thinks
my parents are frustrated because she's letting them down, and so she
She wishes she could die, but she's terrified of dying.
And I wish she could escape from a life that gives her no joy, but I also
want her to eat and exercise so she'll live longer, because I don't want
my grandmother to die
. And I'm ashamed of myself for both wanting her
to be able to die, and for wanting her to live longer.
I don't want your advice. Seriously, I don't want to hear a word of
advice from any of you. None of you know any good solutions here, not
for me, not for my grandmother, not for my parents. Don't embarrass
yourself by pretending to the wisdom of the ages.
But tell your loved ones that you love them. And show some compassion
for people who need help.