My father-in-law’s admission into a nursing home ended as expected, not happily. He died after about a week there because, quite simply, his body wore out. Parkinson’s, cancer, pneumonia, a fractured back. You can take only so much.
And, as we often hear, it was a blessing. There wasn’t much point in continuing a life where even the simplest of joys–walking and eating–were now denied him.
He spent his last week at Mather Nursing Center in Ishpeming and even though many of us might have heard criticism of the facility over the last several years, his treatment there couldn’t have been better. The nurses and aides, almost without exception, were highly competent, caring and compassionate.
It’s got to be a tough job dealing with, in most cases, people who are at the ends of their lives. People who, in most cases, can’t care for themselves, and in many cases are semi-coherent at best.
For those of us not in the business, frankly, it can be depressing walking into a nursing home past a phalanx of people in wheelchairs who generally don’t respond to a “Hi!” or “How you doing?” And there are the odors to deal with, along with the overall atmosphere of sickness, aging and ultimately death.
A tough job, so I admire those people who have chosen this profession.
But at the same time, having now experienced a week of visits to a nursing home, I wonder about how we, as a society treat aging and death, itself.
My mother, who died about 10 years ago, had repeatedly told her children, “Don’t let me die in a nursing home! Kill me before you do that!” And I believe she meant it.
In fact, she was in a nursing home briefly to recover from a stroke, and begged me, in a scribbled note, to take her home. A few days later, I did as I was told, and within hours of arriving home, as she was staring out the window of her living room into her beloved garden, she died. At home.
So you wonder. What do you want to do when the end is approaching? I think it would be safe no one wants to go to a nursing home, but if the family is physically unable to care for the old person, then what?
In some societies, those at the end of their lives are simply taken to a mountain and left to die–a victim of the elements.
Seems barbaric, primitive, cruel. But after spending a long week watching people who were old and broken down and rapidly losing their faculties, I’m not sure we have found a way yet for people to die with dignity, either.