Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Are We Living Too Long?

Let's talk about death today! Sorry, just trying to make it seem exciting. If you know me well, you may know that I live with my grandparents, who are 90+ years old. If you know me really well, you may also know that my grandfather is losing his mind... some sort of dementia, maybe Alzheimer's, who knows. Regardless, much of the time he doesn't know who I am, nor where he is, and from time to time, he still thinks it's the 1940s. He also has a hard time taking care of himself. He seems to forget how to perform even the most basic tasks, like brushing his teeth or shaving. Every day is a struggle for him and for those around him.

Essentially, his quality of life has diminished to the point where I question why he wants to keep fighting. Lately I've been thinking hard about some of this stuff... yes, we're living longer lives, but are we really living?

Before I go any further, I'd like to say a few things. First, no one close to me has ever died. At 28 years old, I'm not quite sure how this is possible, but I haven't personally experienced the loss of a close family member or friend. Second, I have no idea what it's like to be close to death. I'm young, and haven't suffered from any life-threatening trauma myself, so I've never personally been in a situation where I felt like I was dying. My point is, I'm looking at death as an outsider, as someone with no first-hand experience. If you find anything I say to be offensive, or ignorant... now you know where I'm coming from.

I'm a firm believer in the idea that we die when we're ready to die. You know, outside of trauma or something like that. How many times have you heard that someone "died with his family at his side, as if he knew it was time", or that "it was like she waited for everyone to leave so she could die in peace"? No matter how we want it to happen, it seems we have some control over when we let ourselves go. It's as if we have one foot in the afterlife, and it's up to us to take that last step.

But today, with modern medicine leading the way, it seems that many of us hang onto that step for as long as is humanly possible. I've met some who are far beyond the point my grandfather is at. Spending just a few minutes in a dementia ward at a local nursing home, I've met people with virtually no mental function who need assistance in every activity of daily living. It's one of the most depressing things I've ever seen. These people are simply no longer functioning human beings.

So this brings up some questions... What's keeping people like this alive? Have we forgotten how to die? Why do we keep going, despite such a horrible quality of life?

I think we would benefit from thinking a little harder about death.

Looking at Death in a Positive Light
To me, death can be a beautiful thing. We're all born, and we all die. Those are just about the only certainties in this life, and I think there's something beautiful in the simplicity. To quote my favorite Bright Eyes' song, "there is nothing as lucky, as easy, or free". It's the inevitable ending to a human life, the culmination of all that has been accomplished, and a celebration of the freedom of the soul from the confines of the body. What's so bad about that?

I think it's time we embrace death. Not literally of course, for most of us, but we should change the way we think about it. It marks an ending for sure, but with all endings come new beginnings. The death of a loved one will never be easy. But if we approach it with a different mindset, understanding the positives that can come from it and appreciating the beauty of a life that has run its course, we can appreciate it for what it is. Think of the death of a loved one as a chance for personal growth. You can't change it. You have no choice but to keep on going. Embrace it, accept it, and grow from it. Change is the only constant in life; it's best we all learn how to use it to our advantage.

And when that time comes to face the end of our own lives, and I truly believe that we will know when that time comes, we shouldn't feel obligated to fight it. Sure, modern medicine can keep us alive for many years more than ever before, but as our quality of life declines, each of us needs to decide for ourselves whether that's a good thing. There's nothing wrong with letting go if that's what we feel. And we should do it with smile, experiencing the full spectrum of emotions of the moment... happiness, sorrow, relief, hope, guilt, love, fear, all of it... knowing that we took the next step on our terms, not at the mercy of a respirator.

Phew, that was some heavy stuff. I just can't talk about death anymore, even if it is the positive side of it. It's killing my mood!! I won't even properly conclude this post, just take these musings for what they're worth!

I'll leave you with something a little lighter... an article called "Top Five Regrets of the Dying". It's a great list that might just help you put things in perspective. Hint: be happy and love people. Now that's how you end a post about death on a happy note :)


  1. My grandma is almost 95, last 5 years she lives in a mental institution for old people because she became a danger to others besides being unable to take care of herself. My mom who will be 76 in couple months is horrified that she will be living that long too because my mom is healthier than my grandma. What to do? My grandma is not on a respirator or confined to her bed, she is given only a medication to control her blood pressure
    + some calmind meds if necessary, also food and water. My mom requested from me to end her life if she became like her mom, but I refused to give such promice.

    1. I can definitely identify with that. I don't think my grandfather is quite at that point yet, but he's getting there. I don't think there's much you can do honestly, other than let it play out. As much as your grandmother needs others to take care of her, and as much as her mind may have betrayed her, she is still the only one who knows when it's her time to go. It's unfortunate for everyone involved, but I don't know what you can do :/

    2. I know there is nothing could be done, even by my grandma .