Paul Moore: Not rage against a dying light, but hope for a new day
In My Father’s House / By Paul Thomas Moore
An elderly friend and former neighbor of ours, whom I will call Jane, is going through a difficult time. Her husband died a few years ago, and about a year later she fell and fractured her pelvis, followed by another fall just months later, this time resulting in a broken hip.
Since the falls, we have increasingly been doing things for Jane, such as bringing in her mail and paper, taking out her garbage, and then earlier this year when her 91-year-old brother-in-law wasn’t able to do it, taking her for groceries, and finally going to get the groceries for her. More recently, by default, we have become her part-time unskilled caregivers.
I say by default because although she requires significant in-home help for personal needs, food preparation, cleaning and laundry, she is unwilling to have professional “strangers” in her home. Unwilling is putting it mildly. She simply says no. Other people would not do things the way she does them. This is probably true, but it also means that due to her physical challenges, these things are just not getting done.
The laundry piles up on beds, the dust and dirt accumulate, and the mice are having a field day.
NUMEROUS FALLS, ONE MESSAGE
More even than all of this, it’s so hard for her to get around — even with her walker — that many times she doesn’t even try. More than once we have come in to find her in the chair we left her in the night before. The way she attacks any food or drink we bring her confirms our suspicion. Between bites, she will shake her head and say no — she doesn’t need any home care.
The same thing goes if she falls, which she has done numerous times over the last few months. It’s a miracle she hasn’t broken anything, and we suspect she sinks to the floor like she does everything else: slowly. We also suspect that’s why her emergency response button isn’t always triggered. Since she is unable to remember to take her cellphone with her everywhere, we’ve often found her on the floor after several hours, sometimes even overnight.
When she is on the floor, we are no longer willing to try and pick her up, due to the chance of injury to her — or to ourselves (which has happened once already with my wonky back). This leaves us with only one option — a call to EMS, which again she does not want, but we call anyway. When they dutifully arrive, she tells them in no uncertain terms that if they are thinking of taking her to the hospital, she’s not going, and by the way, they can get out of her house.
Most of the time, because her vitals are good, and she doesn’t have anything broken, they can regretfully do nothing more than prop her up in a chair and leave. A few times, on doctor’s orders, they have taken her to the hospital, where the only message she has for nurses, doctors, and hospital staff is that she wants to go home . . . now. She has her rights.
HOPE FOR A MIDDLE ROAD
The most recent time it was a little different, as she had a minor stroke and, having trouble with one of her arms, was admitted to the hospital on doctor’s orders. She accepted that she had a stroke, but was not at all convinced about next steps (e.g., rehab; nursing care facility). She wants only to go home. Told that if she went home in this condition, without in-home support, she could very well die, her response is fatalistic, “Everybody dies.”
My wife and I pray Jane is able to accept a middle road somewhere between defiance and despondency.
We pray she accepts the help she needs, and that we can visit her in the safe, clean surroundings that she deserves, and not in a place where every time we open the door and call her name, we wonder if there will be an answer.
We have witnessed among friends and relatives who have established a relative peace with aging that — perhaps paradoxically — they seem able to retain a greater level of independence than those who fight the march of time every step of the way. Some surrender seems to be in order, which for we Christians is not an alien concept.
The poet Dylan Thomas famously proposed that we should not accept the indignities of old age but “. . . rage against the dying of the light.” Still, we have faith the Lord does not hold a dying light, but a lamp that glows brighter the nearer we draw. We pray our friend Jane will catch a hopeful glimpse of that well-lit path.
PAUL THOMAS MOORE is a Catholic communicator and singer-songwriter. He and wife Mary Louise attend St. Mary of Lourdes in Germantown Hills. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.