Rule #21: We seek dignity
Dignity from the Latin word “dignitas” meaning worthiness.
In my 50’s I am seeing most of my friends dealing with the illness or passing of their parents. I watch them, as I did, struggle with caring for those that have cared for them.
I found that with my father and mother all the unresolved issues of childhood came rushing forward from your sub-consciousness, and l felt both a helplessness and fear that that I was doing the wrong thing for my parents.
After their passing I realized that my parents told me long before they got sick what to do with their home, with their belongings and their healthcare but never what to do with these feelings. I knew exactly who to call for the funeral but had no idea who to call for understanding of what they really wanted as they finished their life.
Although I still fully intent to live forever, in the unlikely case that my plans do not work for immortality, I thought you should share my perspective learned from my parents passings. Its a perspective that required both the loss of my parents and a major personal heath issue. Looking over the end of life requires you to come to the cliff’s edge and dangle your toes over it fully understand it.
When my parents were fading I first thought they wanted to understand my most stupid actions in life and be reassured of my love for them. I found myself apologizing for not being caring, grateful, diligent, loving, kind, and a thousand other personal failures that I felt would be a burden to them. I felt I needed to apologize to my Dad for how I treated him during my first marriage, how I didn’t include him in enough major life events, and how I sucked at virtually every sport that he loved to watch. I was saying I was sorry for the F in biology in my first semester of college and for the time I crashed my first car the day I got it, and then again a week later.
The reality was this was all wasted energy, because he didn’t want to hear any of these silly apologies, he wasn’t sitting in the hospital bed lamenting his son’s inability to catch a fly ball, he was just scared. Scared at losing control over his body and life, and scared about not knowing what came next.
I know you, my children are mostly certain, at this point in your lives, in the fact that God does not exist. You are convinced that through the big bang theory a a number of other of scientific analysis God can be dismissed as an unnecessary fable.
But sitting at the bedside of my passing I promise you will be thinking about that fable a great deal, at that moment the shifts of real and unreal in our universe occur- the true reality of our existence is felt. It is when clarity is given to us. I can not promise you that it will change your view on God, but I can promise you that it will change you. And I can promise you will see real fear.
I was given the gift of being with my Dad several months before he died and was able to understand in the process what I believe was important to him, and will be important to me. It is the quest for dignity. It is through dignity this fear is lessened.
My sister, Donna has been involve with the The Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly (CARIE) for many years and has long said that the loss of dignity leads to the loss of self. Without dignity we lose ourselves.
Death sucks. And dying slowly sucks even more.
Yes you get rice pudding, a comfy bed and the occasional sponge bath. But in general it sucks.
The only times I could remember my Dad enjoying himself was when a young, good looking nurse would be assigned to him – and he would be hoping for one of those sponge baths. My regret is that I wasn’t able to get more of them for him.
(For future reference for me remember less rice pudding and more sponge baths)
In those final months it was having dignity in his life that mattered, dignity that both illness and the medical system robs from us. I think all people crave is being treated with a degree of worth. I found the best doctors were the one’s that allowed him a sense of control and respect. As people deal with the fear of the unknown, it is this control of their lives that will allow them to find peace on their own terms.
As you deal with my death and others death close to you, you should not be asking what else you can do to save our lives, because you will fail- you can only stall and never win this battle. Often the stalling is more about what you want than the person dying wants.
Your thoughts should be about living with dignity, making sure that everyday is filled with a verification of their worth as a person. Things like control over the clothing, food and in the case of my dad the TV remote are the critical issues.
Seek dignity for those dying and you both will find peace.
Oh, and do please keep Christine the candy striper on your speed dial for my sponge baths.