Health and Wellbeing, My head

Knocking on heaven’s door

May 19, 2016

Knocking on heaven's doorI changed my grandfather’s diaper the other day. I didn’t plan to, and it’s not because I’m a dedicated and devoted granddaughter, it was quite by accident.

He was on the loo when he had a nose bleed, and his medication thins his blood so it was like a scene from the Walking Dead. Quite literally.

My grandfather is really old. 90 to be precise.

He doesn’t look like one of those people you see and think ” holy shit, you’re 90? You don’t look a day over 80.”

He did, not that long ago but time has sped up for him of late and now he looks ancient.

He has lost almost all sharpness, almost all movement but he is still with us. Covered in bruises, and often gets sores, he has fluid on his lungs and kidneys that are ready to go on a long vacation.

He is cared for at home by his 85 year old wife;
My nana.

She is bone weary, and she is struggling with her own health problems but she soldiers on in nursing her husband of 60 years in his final months.

This is very personal stuff and maybe they’d hate me airing it but no one one really talks about dying. They talk about life and then they talk about the dearly departed.

Some people the talk about people with illness and prolonged illness and death, but what about just dying of old age and this fading away until you barely exist?

They say growing old is a privilege, and to anyone who lost someone prematurely I will say I agree, but this… This?

Is this extreme old age and prolonged existence a privilege?

I’m not a good grand daughter. I don’t visit regularly or take my grandparents soup so I’m not writing this asking for condolences about my Grandpa. He is a good man and we’ve had our differences, but seeing him like this is shocking.

We put our old decrepit animals down but we cling to our people until they lose every scrap of dignity and leave the world similar to the babies they were when they arrived.

It’s strange to me. It’s made me think about my mortality and what I would like in his situation.

I would like a big fat wake while I was alive. I would make all of the guests dance for me, because I presumably would no longer be up for shuffling much let alone busting actual shapes on the floor.

I would smile at them dancing because humans moving to pop music is both joyous and ridiculous and then they would talk about their fondest memories of our lives together.

They would drink spirits, because wine is not for wakes, and over whiskey toasts we would laugh and maybe cry and I would tell everyone how much they’ve meant to me along my journey and we would hug.

I don’t want that kind of fun happening when I’m dead and can’t appreciate it. I want to be there for such a celebration of a life.

Grandpa, Nana and their four kids at his 'living wake'

Grandpa, Nana and their four kids at his ‘living wake’

My grandfather’s 90th birthday was a similar affair minus the joyous dancing and whiskey. But it was a celebration that suited him with a spectacular slide show of his life. His triumphs were there on the big screen, as was his family and friends from all of the eras he had lived through.
The eras were evident in the fashion and the hairstyles, the babies becoming adults and having babies themselves.

The great grandchildren. And the great-grandchildren. See what I did there?

It was a jolly affair, and it was whispered amongst the guests that he would probably not have a 91st birthday.

I don’t know what he wants, maybe he’s content with these twilight days of napping almost continuously and constant falling, and strange bleeds.

Maybe he’s just not ready to go, but I hope when it’s me in the adult diapers and nary a shred of dignity left after this glorious life I have lived, I hope, there will be another choice.

Euthanasia is not a sexy topic. In fact, it’s pretty hushed in most places but having a mother, a hero, with a degenerative disease such as MS has meant it’s not a taboo topic in our homes.

If I’m completely honest it’s not often spoken of stone cold sober but you can bet your arse it’s been hashed out time and again through red wine stained lips. It’s not a Pinot Gris chat, more like a bold Shiraz.

It’s a complex issue due to the legalities and red tape that would need to be in place, but I believe the legislative complexities would be worth it in order to allow people to die with the same dignity with which they live their lives… Hell, even the undignified deserve to die with a shred.

My nana would not make the choice, I don’t believe, for as bone weary as she may be, she’s also scared and heartbroken at the thought of the man who walked beside her for 60 odd years no longer being there. He drives her nuts, always has, but it’s that kind of nuts you keep coming back for.

She would now sit by his bedside for another 20 years if that’s how long it took, but I don’t think I would ask that of someone. I guess if I’m privileged enough to reach ancient I’ll have to think about it then.

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  • Reply Kooky Chic May 19, 2016 at 9:27 am

    I recently had the privilege of sitting with my friend as he was dying. He spoke openly about what was happening to him, which was not as confronting as I thought it would be. However, it was confronting watching the panic in his eyes as he couldn’t breathe, the groans from the agony of the pain and the swelling of his feet which, in end resembled those of elephants. He begged the doctors to overdose him but of course they couldn’t. He knew the end was going to be horrendous and it was. I’m sure he embraced death when it came for him, I know we all did.

    • Reply Danielle May 20, 2016 at 2:25 pm

      I loved this comment. It is beautiful and sad in equal measures it it is raw and real. I love that.

  • Reply Michele McDonald May 19, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    10 years ago I watched my father die over period of one week – horrible, horrible, horrible! When I turned 50 I joined EXIT International (the euthanasia organisation sponsored by Dr Nietschke). I did that, so I can learn about the best, peaceful and most dignified ways to choose my end.
    In the end, I want it to be at a time of my choosing. But then again, I don’t have to take anyone else but my partner into account – and he has done the same.
    Everyone should have the choice.

  • Reply Heather May 19, 2016 at 6:23 pm

    My Mum and Dad died within a week of each other Danielle, over ten years ago.. Dad went first and Mum just gave up, wanting to be with her beloved ‘up there’ ! The medics wanted to put her on a drip to keep her going.. we said ‘no’..and let her go. She was weary, both mid 80’s. They loved each other so much. I miss them so, but they had a happy and contented life. Thanks for sharing your blog.
    love Heather..x

    • Reply Danielle May 31, 2016 at 8:02 pm

      do you know, Bex just told me the full story the other day. So sad and sweet. It’s hard for those left behind.

  • Reply John Hulls May 20, 2016 at 9:48 am

    My late brother Barry always said that if he had a terminal disease he would want to take the “fast way” out. But when faced with ongoing cancers, he chose to fight for life, enduring chemo and radiation, hair loss and weight reduction. Whenever I asked him how he was doing he would say ” not bad for an old fart”, he was 59. I have no issues with euthanasia, in fact faced with the same diagnosis, I believe I would opt for a quick and painless death. But that’s for now, if I eventually had to face it for real, who knows what I would decide.

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