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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Imagining

If you visited this blog hoping for my usual silliness, I'm sorry to disappoint.

This morning Nancy and I are driving to Macon to visit her parents: her mother who has Alzheimers, and her father who is living with someone who has Alzheimers.  Every so often, there's more news, and it's never good.

Nancy's mom is suffering from a delusion that dad is having an affair with a neighbor.  She spent all last week in a rage, never giving poor dad a break, and frightening him to the extent he called Nancy's brother and sister.  Dad is frail, and there's a very real chance Mom will do him physical harm.  The doctor upped Mom's dosage of Seroquil, and for the time being that seems to be working, bearing in mind, nothing in Alzheimers is permanent except the Alzheimers itself.
I believe the wellspring of Mom's delusional fury, and the fury of many of her fellow Alzheimers victims, is the inarticulate conviction she has been cheated out of something, which is perhaps not far wrong.  Old age, even without Alzheimers, is a terrible cheat and robs piecemeal.  Who can watch its ravages and not feel angry?

In an interview on NPR, Nora Ephron spoke of the experience growing old, "You think for quite a while you're going to be the only person who doesn't need reading glasses, or the only person who doesn't go through menopause... and in the end, the only person who isn't going to die.  And then you suddenly are faced with whichover of those things it is, and you can't believe how unimaginative you have been about what it actually consists of."

You can hope for the sudden death that takes you out of the world unaware - the  massive heart attack, the unexpected fatal stroke.  But the odds of that good fortune are small.  No matter how pleasant the broad middle plain of life is, the ending is usually nasty and harsh.  I can only imagine two ways not to feel bitter as it approaches, not to feel cheated: one is to believe firmly that there is something better waiting beyond death.  Frankly, I cannot see a justification for such a belief, but I may see things very differently when I face the black abyss myself.  The other is to live life so well, that there is nothing to regret, and you can hand over the joys of life with as little qualm as going to sleep after a full day.  This seems more doable, but is a high hurdle nevertheless.  How many people live such lives?  How many chase one phantom or another, trying to forget they will ever die?

The thing to do in the meantime, I believe, and to start doing now, whatever age you are, is to begin imagining the end.  Imagine that you will be old, that you will be faced with physical and mental debility.  Imagine that you will worsen and die.  Imagine it every day until you know it is true.

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