Do yourself a favor, you’ll be glad you did
“Death be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so.” —John Donne
There are some people in this world who believe that dying is absolutely the worst thing that can happen to a person.
Those people have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.
Those people have not witnessed as much as I.
If you want to see something worse than death, simply visit any nursing home, no matter how good a one, no matter how well administered a one, no matter how caring a one anywhere in this country. There is a hauntingly empty, if inaudible background chorus playing over and over again — like the needle stuck in an old record’s groove — in every one of them: “Oh, look at all the lonely people…”
No matter how full of its residents, there is still vacancy, the far away emptiness in so many eyes that is truly, practically tactile.
Five years ago this week, had you wanted to see something worse than death, you could have visited Room 28 in this town’s wonderful little nursing home where my wife of then 38 years lay on a bed. After a decade of suffering the dignity destroying and faculty-robbing ravages of dementia, she weighed 82 pounds.
Did I mention that many and many a year ago she was one of the runners-up in the Miss Delta State Pageant?
Some days she knew me, if not my name. Some days she knew both. Some days she knew neither. But I was always thankful that on my visits there was almost always a spark, even momentary, of recognition in her eyes upon seeing me, rather than that awful, prevailing vacancy.
In the providential manner that such things are determined, it would be another year before she would be granted the mercy and relief that death brings in far more cases than are generally recognized.
But this column is not about her or me or my family; it is, instead, about you and yours.
Plainly put, you need to pay attention to what’s going on and you need to talk.
By the end, my wife was on Medicaid — you know, the program that pays for two-thirds of all nursing home patients because neither Medicare nor private insurance will. That was after I had spent almost all our money. Nursing homes are expensive. Got an extra $6,000-$8,000 a month, lying around? Got enough for a decade of it?
Well, just so you know, Medicaid is also the program that the Republican Senate “health” bill would cut by $600 billion to give their donors an $800 billion tax cut. If that happens, it’s apt to get dicey and your options might be a tad limited. Cutting benefits from “those people,” after all, is always a swell idea until you become one of them.
(This isn’t about stereotypes, folks, this is about birthing babies and caring for kids with disabilities and providing a way to pay for nursing home care.)
As important as that is, though, there is something else you very much need to do. You need to talk about what’s vogue these days to call “end of life decisions.”
You need to address the end of life subject with your family long before you are faced with having to make decisions about someone you love. You and your spouse and your children need to sit down together and have a very frank talk about some things that none of you will much want to talk about. But it’s important.
You can trust me on this one, folks. It is never fun, but it is much better to do it sooner, rather than later. Quality of life was a governing factor for us but there are no “right” answers, no one size fits all when it comes to end of life. There is only what’s right for you and your family.
But that is not to say that there is not one very wrong answer — and that is to do nothing.
At a time that will already be painful enough, there is another source of it lurking. Medicine and law do not always walk hand-in-hand and you absolutely do not want them to clash with you and a loved one in the middle. The decision, whatever it might be, needs to be yours and not somebody else’s.
I urge, as strongly as I can, every married couple to have their lawyer execute durable medical powers of attorney for each of you on behalf of the other. It will be the best couple of hundred dollars that you will ever spend.
In that way, you can at least take some solace, a small but important comfort that you will need amid the inevitable sadness and grief, that you are there to carry out what he or she would have wanted, one last time.
Make sure you have done what is needed to be able to take care of the one you love, one last time. That may not seem important now, but it will. It will.
Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of The Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.