Fred on Mount Fuji
To the Better End

My Own Experiences

The deaths of relatives

Fred Hansen
Winter '07
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My parents and in-laws are dead or dying:
  • My mom is 92 and is doing great. She did, however, stop driving at the beginning of this year (2007). She will inevitably die, but it will be a long time yet. She lives in an apartment in a building catering to those still able to get to the central dining room. She cooks breakfast in her apartment and visits with friends in neighboring apartments.
  • My mother-in-law is weak and needs a wheel chair. Her residence is a shared room in a nursing home. Residents push a button to summon a nurse. It sounds an intermitent buzzer until it is answered. Due to personnnel shortage, the buzzer seldom stops. My wife and her siblings visit often, but some residents have few visitors. Television is the most common pastime; the volume is set on each to compensate for hearing loss, competition from other TVs, and that buzzer.
  • My father-in-law shared an apartment with his wife until shortly before his death. Then he moved to the same nursing wing his wife now occupies. In his last month we visited and had a fine talk. Then he just died. It was too bad, but he lived a good life.
  • My father contracted Alzheimer's, as did his mother and sister, and probably some of his children. He needed constant supervision by my mother for five years and then went into a nursing wing. They pumped him full of haldol, which wiped him both mentally and physically. Once I carried in a box with a company name in big letters. He was so delighted when able to read one of the words. (Apparently he couldn't see smaller letters without his glasses, which were not put on him.) After a few years, he forgot how to eat. Since he was under a DNR order (Do Not Resuscitate), he was not fed and starved to death.
  • Two of my grandparents died of cancer. Painful for a couple of months. My mother's father just got old, and died two weeks after a cheerful visit at Christmas. In the last years of his life, each time I saw him I got anecdotes from an earlier period in his life.
When they sentenced to death the guy responsible for the Oklahoma city bombing, it seemed to me too good for him. Why, I thought, should he be gotten out of his misery so easily. And thus I came to doubt the death penalty. If I wouldn't have killed him, why kill any criminal. Just bury them alive (figuratively) in an institution. Any time they show any interest in anything, take it away from them.

On the other hand, for many in "end-of-life" situations, death might be welcome. Perhaps, I wonder, our society has this whole death thing backwards. At some point--a point decided not by law, not by a doctor, but by the living individual--death is a boon to be awarded and not a punishment to be feared. (Criminals don't seem to fear the death penalty anyway. Crime rates do not differ between states with and without the death penalty.)
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