So, J-P, another Thanksgiving holiday is over! What will you remember about it?

Why, hello there! I'm so glad you asked!
  • I'll remember my brother's little rat terrier getting into a screaming, barking, howling fight with a dachshund puppy. (Both unharmed, thank goodness)
  • 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.
  • I'll 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 anything.

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 lonely, 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 cries.

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 and empathy for people who need help.

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