A couple of key issues that relate to ‘longevity’ have cropped up in Ireland in recent weeks and now everywhere I look I seem to be seeing things about people wanting to prolong life and try and evade death by hook or by crook.
Irish people (like those in other developed countries) are living a lot longer than they used to and very little provision was made for this. So now we have a situation where older people are ‘clogging up’ beds in acute hospitals because they have nowhere suitable to go. Home care packages just aren’t sufficient and there aren’t enough nursing home or supported-living places.
The idea of being stuck in an acute hospital, not in the best of health, worrying about ‘where to’ next is something that fills me with dread. I witnessed elements of this with my own parents when they were in their late eighties and their quality of life was declining. However, they were fortunate to be able to remain in their own home, with care, and this mattered hugely to them both.
The vast majority of Irish people want to die in their own homes but only a small percentage actually achieve this goal.
For me, there is a key question about whether people want to live on because they don’t want to die ~ either because they fear it or because they don’t want to leave others behind.
I feel that quality of life is key and having to ‘exist’ when the mind and body have essentially outlived their time is a form of cruel imprisonment than no one deserves to have to endure unless s/he chooses.
I realise that this is controversial territory but maybe it is a debate which society badly needs to address.
I hope you’re in good fettle and not too surprised to be getting this letter.
I decided to write it as everyone seems to be writing to 30-year-old -me and I feel that there’s a lot to be said for addressing the future ~ 30 years on! You know the way we had that tendency, especially before Father died, to feel that we couldn’t look beyond that point ~ as it seemed like an end-of-the-world prospect.
The world didn’t end then and I’m wondering what you’re thinking 30 years on. What are your hopes, your regrets, the things that you can see as having been truly important with the benefit of hindsight.
I would like to think that you’re still physically active and that you can get to the beach everyday. Hopefully, you’re still swimming and getting that buzz we’ve always got from being immersed in the seawater, with the waves splashing our face.
Speaking of face, how are your teeth? Please tell me that the gum operation I’m dreading so much was worth it all and that the wobbly tooth is still there, solid as a rock.
Writing to you feels like having the framework of a huge jig-saw pretty much in place but needing to figure out those tough bits, especially those that are all the same colour. We certainly had plenty of practice at jig-saws when we were small, didn’t we? Remember the time we stayed in Jigsaw Cottage high up in the Wicklow Mountains. That was a happy night ~ and we managed to find one piece to fit that 5,000 piece jig-saw. I wonder did they ever get it finished?
Have you added many pieces to our jigsaw or have you dumped it and taken a whole new turn in life? I quite like the idea of a whole new you: someone who has cast away worry; has got tidier; is gallivanting around the world on some sort of crazy, creative mission; is full of hope having ridden the storms of this recession and presumably a few more that lie ahead of me now.
What I would hate is if you are socially dead ~ remember David Sudnow’s Passing On and ‘social death’ in Second Year in Trinity? That book has never left me and I can’t imagine it has left you either. I couldn’t bear if you were just languishing in a day room of some nursing home ~ a sort of waiting-room for death. I can’t imagine how something that feels so not ‘me’ could have become okay for an older ‘me.’
I’m here thinking that life is about quality ~ to love, be loved, to laugh, write, read poetry, soak in nature, be at peace, have hope and, of course, health.
I know that we won’t live forever. Do you still feel that way? Do you still think of Cicero and On a Life Well Spent?
If I’m absolutely honest, the reason I came to write to you was because I’ve been seeing lots of lovely wintery sunsets and you know the way I’ve always associated death as being as natural as the sun setting.
Lots and lots of love,
PS. I hope you still have a dog in your life and not just memories of all the beauties we’ve shared thus far.