The Purpose and Dignity Of Old Age

One of my clients recently moved into a nursing home, one of the city’s best, and at the family’s request, I have continued her nursing foot care in the home.  I went to see her today.  While I’m impressed with the facility itself, ultimately, it’s the same as any other nursing home I go into because its residents are among the most vulnerable in society. 

From the pictures I’ve seen of my client, she was once a strikingly beautiful woman.  You can still see her physical beauty if you look past her time-worn features.  She was also a woman of means, as shown by the way her former home was decorated, and a woman of impeccable taste.  None of that matters to her now because she’s in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s Disease.

She now lives on the secure floor of the nursing home along with other people whose memories have been robbed from them and for whom an entire day is spent wandering the hallway or sitting in a wheelchair.  Some people say this is not a way to live.  I disagree.   For my client and others like her, this is the only way to live.  They don’t remember anything else.  This is their present – their here and now.

It’s a real challenge to care for my client.  She’s so child-like that she becomes frightened with the whirring sound made by one of my foot care tools.  She’s easily upset when the cold metal from my nail nipper touches her skin.  And she’s just plain confused by everything  I do to her.  To keep her calm, I speak to her like I would a frightened little child, even distracting her with silly questions and nonsensical statements.  Most of the time, it works. 

Caring for the most vulnerable senior citizens can be difficult.  I have a wealth of experience in this area both professionally and personally.  No one ever said it was easy.

My client could be the poster girl for those who advocate euthanasia and assisted suicide.  Who wants to end up like her?  Why be a burden to anyone?  Why waste tax dollars on her?  It’s her life – let her end it.

I don’t agree with euthanasia or assisted suicide because I believe in the Fifth Commandment – Thou Shalt Not Kill.  But there’s more to it than that.

In order for me to make sense out of the cruelty of Alzheimer’s and related diseases, I try to look beyond my client’s immediate situation.  I believe that everything happens for a reason.  Every living being has a unique purpose and contribution to humanity.

I think that my beautiful client and others like her give the rest of us an opportunity to become better people.  She’s a catalyst for us to dig way down – past our own fears about old age and illness, past our doubts about our ability to care, past our self-centredness – and rise to the challenge and beauty of caring for the most vulnerable, of recognizing and protecting human dignity.  She gives that to us just by sitting in her wheelchair locked in total confusion about the world around her. 

Legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide is not just immoral and sinful.  It also robs us of the gift of looking beyond ourselves and realizing that in our humanity, we are hard-wired to  care for those who are weak and dependent.  Euthanasia and assisted suicide may lessen the burden of a caregiver or a healthcare budget, but it will also make all of us less human.

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2 Responses to The Purpose and Dignity Of Old Age

  1. Nicole S says:

    Caring for those who can’t care for themselves – whether it is the very young or the very old – is a challenge. It is a challenge to our patience, our self-giving, our generosity and yet if we rise to that challenge we become better people….and becoming a better version of ourselves is truly what our journey in life is about. Thank you for this very perceptive piece.

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