Betty White is not my Grandma

You won't find her star on Hollywood Boulevard, but I'll always be Grandma's number one fan.

You won’t find her star on Hollywood Boulevard, but I’ll always be Grandma’s number one fan.

“So you blog about your Grandma. Is she famous or something?”

It’s a reasonable question. And sometimes I wish she were famous — like Betty White. After all, they’re about the same age. But my Grandma is no Betty White.

She never had a glamorous job

Betty White was already a radio star in the 30s before she moved on to TV and movies. My Grandma worked for Ma Bell her whole career. She did meet Jimmy Carter once when she went to Washington as a representative of the Communication Workers of America. If you ask her she’ll tell you President Carter was a decent man, but the rest of those clowns in Washington were just a bunch of skirt chasers.

She never married anyone famous

Grandpa never hosted a game show like Betty White’s husband, Allen Ludden. But in Grandma’s eyes he might as well have been Steve McQueen. They got married the first time when she was 15 and he was 20 and would’ve never divorced if World War II and his jealous sisters hadn’t interrupted their lives.

They both remarried, but she stayed in touch with his mom. When Grandpa called her 15 years later and told her he still loved her, it was Katy bar the door. They both divorced, and he showed up in Topeka in 1961 with a used car and 20 dollars to his name. For the next 44 years they were unquestionably the love of each other’s lives.

She wouldn’t have starred in Lake Placid

Grandma was never a big movie buff, and she’s certainly no alligator fan. But she still has her autographed picture of Chuck Norris from the time he came to town for his movie shoot, and she never misses his movies when they show them on TV.

She never hosted Saturday Night Live

Hell, she’s never even watched Saturday Night Live.

My Grandma is no Betty White. She doesn’t have a star on Hollywood Boulevard, and she’s not going to leave me a fortune. She’s grouchy and eccentric and stubborn. And some days she doesn’t even know who I am.

But Grandma took care of me when my teenage mother was still busy growing up. When I was nine, she bought me Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. She always let me play on her typewriter, even when she had work to do. And I never remember her sending me to bed without supper.

When I was older, Grandma  paid my college dorm fees and bought my first house so I could afford to finish school after my daughter was born. She kept that house when I fell in love and ran away to England to get married because she knew I’d be back. And when I did return, she never once said I told you so. Well OK, maybe once.

Whenever I’ve needed something — pocket money, new shoes, a mom — Grandma has been there for me.

I at least owe her a blog.

Image credit: zlajo / 123RF Stock Photo

This post was inspired by the WordPress Daily Prompt.

The slippery slope to sitting around in your skivvies

No matter how comfortable I get working from home, this will never be me.

No matter how comfortable I get working from home, this will never be me.

I work from home a lot lately, which means my office wear usually consists of comfy shorts and my tie-dyed shirt du jour. Dress for the job you want, they say. I want to be an independently wealthy recreational blogger, so I think I’m right on track.

But a funny thing happens when you stop dressing up every day: there’s much less wiggle room to dress down. Some days it’s a thin line that separates me from showing up at the local Price Chopper in a muumuu and house shoes. Luckily I have Grandma’s example to keep my fashion sense from completely bottoming out.

Grandma was a snazzy dresser in her day. She had color-coordinated polyester slacks and blouses in every color of the rainbow, and a costume jewelry collection that spilled over into every spare inch of closet space. For every chunky necklace there was a massive pair of bejeweled clip-on earrings — I never saw her wear one without the other.

Once Grandma retired, she stopped buying her suits at Montgomery Wards and became a connoisseur of garage sale style. Grandpa was always building something out of cast-off lumber, so he dutifully remodeled their house to accommodate her ever-expanding wardrobe.

One day when we came to visit, the front door was  gone. He’d walled it up and used the entryway space plus a good portion of the living room to create a walk-in closet with built-in shelves and easy-to-reach racks. Unorthodox for sure, but Grandma needed storage space, and besides, they had a back door.

When Grandpa died, the task of moving Grandma’s wardrobe fell to me. At first we agreed she’d pare down her collection, but when it came time to start the giveaway pile she broke down in tears. “These are my clothes and I want all of them,” she cried. “Then we’ll take them all,” I promised. Loaded down with armfuls of hangered clothes and musty boxes, my daughters and I carried every last item out to the U-haul and packed it inside.

After the move, it didn’t surprise me when Grandma covered the majority of her clothes in long plastic sheets. We both knew half the pantsuits didn’t fit, and a lot of what was left was just too fancy to wear around the house. A dozen or so pairs of pants and twice that many tops became her go-tos; the rest she kept for the simple comfort of familiarity.

Grandma washed her own clothes for a long time, including the slippery pajama-pant slip things she wears under her slacks to make them slide on and off easier. It kind of reminds me of when we used to powder Barbie’s legs to make her hotpants easier to yank up; just not as messy. Now that I do her laundry, Grandma brings it to my attention whenever a pair of slip pants is missing. Every time I assure her nobody stole her “garments,” which is what I call them, partially because it’s a word my Grandpa always used, and partially because I really don’t know what the hell they are.

Lately Grandma’s opting out of wearing pants all together. When I reminded her about an appointment a few days ago, she said she was ready to go. “In those?” I asked fearfully. By now I take most of her dressing idiosyncrasies in stride, but I was not prepared for a public trip in the pajama slip pants. They’re loose, they drag the floor, and all it would take is one false step for those suckers to drop to the ground,  leaving Grandma in nothing but her Depends. The mere thought made me panic.

“No I’m gonna put my jeans on before we leave,” she assured me. I wondered if Grandma even knew what jeans were since she hasn’t owned a pair in the 40 or so years I’ve known her, but I was relieved. She hadn’t completely abandoned the ritual of getting dressed to go somewhere, which meant for now  I didn’t need to add it to my to-do list.

Grandma is entitled to wear whatever she wants around the house. It’s just sad to have watched her simply give up caring what she looks like or who sees her in her underwear. In some sense I understand where she’s coming from, since I don’t put on makeup or dry my hair on days I work from home. But there’s something psychological about getting up, putting on fresh clothes and keeping a clear distinction between being productive and just being.

Just for good measure, I think I’ll dress up tonight for my daughter’s birthday dinner. There’s nobody to impress, but I’ll feel better. Plus it’ll put a little extra distance between me and the muumuus.

Image credit: caraman / 123RF Stock Photo

If I were Grandma for a day

If I were Grandma for a day, I'd haul my butt out of my chair, live life and act like I'm happy to still be among the living.

If I were Grandma for a day, I’d haul my butt out of my chair, live life and act like I’m happy to still be among the living.

Say I woke up one morning in Grandma’s chair…

I’d take a look around and not see much — but I could see. I’d look at my hands; they’d be wrinkled and arthritic. I’d try to stand up, and it would feel like I’m on a different planet with double Earth’s gravity. My struggle to merely stand would tell me any activity beyond walking to the bathroom is foreign to my 88-year-old body. But I’d be alive, and I wouldn’t spend the day sitting in my chair.

The first thing I’d do once I was on my feet is make a beeline to the shower. I’d step in and turn the water on and feel instantly more alive as it flowed over me. I’d scrub my skin. I’d wash my hair. I’d get water all over my face, and it would feel wonderful. I’d step out ready to take on the day.

Once I dressed, I’d take a look at what there was to eat. The only fresh thing I’d see is a banana, which I’d eat. Still hungry, I’d head upstairs to see what’s in the fridge.

Nobody would expect me to be upstairs, and their jaws would drop when I asked what’s for breakfast. Chloe would say “Pancakes Grandma. Want some?” and I’d say yes, can I have a couple. Once they were on my plate I’d slather on some peanut butter, pour on syrup and enjoy every hot, fresh bite. I wouldn’t belch a single time during breakfast.

Once I finished eating I’d ask everyone about their plans for the day.  They’d be headed to the dog park with Pickles, so  I’d ask if I could come too. It would take me awhile to walk down to the park benches, but I’d make it. Once I sat down I’d spend the next few hours with the sun on my face, listening to the birds and watching the puppy run around like crazy. There’d be people  talking. Dogs  barking. Children squealing. I’d be scooped up in the experience of living, which would be much better than sitting in the basement with nothing but a reading lamp on dosing in and out of sleep waiting for another day to pass me by.

The uphill walk back to the car would be hard, and I’d have to stop several times to catch my breath. Eventually I’d make it to the top. We’d leave the windows open on the ride home and a hundred different smells and sounds would whiz by. There’d be movement and anticipation and choices to make about how to live the rest of the day. I’d spend time with my family and take in details about the lives that usually go on above me while I’m sitting  alone in my chair.

Soon it would be lunch time, and I’d try Indian food for the first time in my life. The spices and textures would be different from what I’m used to, but their intensity would penetrate my ancient tastebuds and I’d experience flavor for the first time in a long while. Memories would flood back from times in my life when I ate something delicious or spit out the first mouthful. I’d remember fresh baked biscuits and butter straight out of the churn. And ice cream — months and years and decades full of eating cold, sweet ice cream.

In the afternoon when everyone was running errands I’d entertain myself by sitting in the garden. Despite my eyesight I’d see dozens of flowers in all shapes and colors — some ready to bloom, others losing a petal or two every time the wind rustled them. There would be birds galore flying back and forth from the feeder, and squirrels scouring the ground below for seeds the birds dropped. A few butterflies would dance around the flowers, and I ‘d even catch a hummingbird out of the corner of my eye looking for nectar in the flowering catnip that’s taken over the entire front porch.  I’d breath deep and take it all in.

Later in the afternoon when everyone came home, I’d sit at the table while dinner’s being made, listening to the kids talk about school and work and boyfriends and their new favorite songs. I’d tell them about the 1950s when nobody had televisions and we all sat around listening to radio shows. They’d tell me nobody listens to radio now, instead they stream music through their computers. I’d ask them if they’d help me look for Benny Goodman streaming on the Internet, and they’d say yes.

After a delicious dinner with fresh corn, rice pilaf and some kind of fake chicken that actually tasted pretty good, I’d watch the kids play cards. There’d be a lot of rules so I’d just enjoy watching them laugh and argue over who laid their cards down first and cheer when somebody won the round.

Eventually I’d look outside and notice it’s getting dark, and I’d realize how tired I am. I’d been awake and alert all day, and I’d sleep like a rock that night. I’d tell my family I love them and head back downstairs with all the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of the day whirling around in my head. I’d realize how much more alive I felt after sitting in the park, spending time in the garden and enjoying my family. I’d sit down in my chair, and Fluffy would jump on my lap. I’d dose off petting her, still thinking of everything I did that day.

The next morning Grandma would wake up and look around. She couldn’t see very well, and every ounce of inertia would be back, weighing her down. She’d decide not to bathe or go upstairs or talk with her family. She’d just sit in her chair in the dimly lit room, dosing off and waking up now and then while another day passed her by.

This post was inspired by the WordPress Daily Prompt.

Image from 123 Royalty Free.

Point > < Counterpoint — vegetarianism

Vegetarian? Vegan? Or good old-fashioned carnivore? People who eschew meat for health and ethical reasons are in the minority, but their numbers are growing among the young and old alike.

Vegetarian? Vegan? Or good old-fashioned carnivore? People who eschew meat for health and ethical reasons are in the minority, but their numbers are growing among the young and old alike.

My point-counterpoint posts feature Grandma’s opinions vs. mine — written with her words recounted as accurately as I can remember them.

point
My granddaughter tells me I should stop eating Spam and potted meat. Well that’s just ridiculous. I’ve eaten meat for 88 years, and I’m still here! So how can meat not be good for you?

I grew up on a farm, and I learned how to wring a chicken’s neck when I was 12 years old! On Sundays there was nothing better than Mom’s fried chicken and potatoes with gravy. We worked hard from sunrise to sunset — you can’t survive on tree bark. Animals on the farm were raised to be food, period.

Every Thanksgiving Mandy and her family eat some cockamamie thing called a tofurkey. Heh heh they probably make it with leftover glue from the horse factory. She tells me this soy business is good for you — well the only people I ever heard of eating it were Chinamen. I’ll stick with my American turkey, thank you very much.

counterpoint
My adventures in vegetarian cooking began long before I actually took the plunge myself. Just a few days after her seventh birthday, Chloe’s New Year’s resolution was to stop eating meat. I said I would too, but I only lasted a few days. Ten years later, she’s devoutly vegetarian down to scouring labels for gelatin. At first I was afraid it would stunt her growth, but she’s as tall as her sisters and it hasn’t stopped her from running track or cross country. To say I’m impressed with her willpower is an understatement.

I’ve been a pescatarian myself for four years now, but I’m seriously considering becoming a vegan. I already pay more for free range eggs and organic milk at home, but I know I’m not getting those when I eat out. And just because something is organic doesn’t mean the cows are treated any better. I’d say my original decision not to eat meat was probably 80 percent ethical, 20 percent health oriented.

Veganism — if I can commit to it — is definitely more of a health-related choice. Just today I read on Ofcoursevegan high blood sugar levels are linked to dementia. I’ve never seen a fat vegan, which leads me to believe becoming one might be my best bet for avoiding a multitude of health problems. I’ve written before about my fear of memory loss and how to avoid it. Now’s the time to put my money where my mouth is.

It’s not the fear of giving up foods I love that’s stopped me from taking this step yet — it’s part sheer laziness, part fear of becoming the self-righteous person so-and-so who lords their politically correct choices over everyone else. The teetotaler who makes snide remarks about everyone who’s drinking … the ex-smoker who can’t walk through the ostracized smokers clustered outside without dramatically waving away smoke from their face and fake coughing … I hate those people, and I don’t want to be that guy. Giving up everything but fish meat-wise was probably a good trial run for testing my tolerance. I’ve done OK so far, and although I’m convinced every hamburger that touches their lips is inextricably tied to crashing ecosystems, intolerable cruelty and self poisoning, I think I can keep those opinions to myself.

I’m more worried about the laziness. If I’m faced with the task of shopping for ingredients I’m not likely to find at my local store, purchasing new gadgets to cook those ingredients and hunting down more than three or four new recipes, I may just eat cereal for dinner. Until I win the lottery and can afford a personal chef to prepare my delicious vegan dinners, I’m going to stock up on almond milk. Just in case.

This blog was prompted by the WordPress weekly writing challenge.

Readers are their own reward

Wonderful Team Membership award

The Wonderful Team Membership award

If no one seems to understand
Start your own revolution, cut out the middleman
—  Billy Bragg, Great Leap Forward

I admit I didn’t have much confidence anyone would read this blog when I started it. But I decided to regale WordPress with tales of Grandma’s shenanigans and my best efforts to care for her anyway and see what happened.

The results have blown me away.

When I got the email a few weeks ago that my post was chosen for Freshly Pressed, I felt like I’d won the Pulitzer. When I saw the little digital trophy for 100 followers in my notifications yesterday, it felt like a standing O. And when my fellow bloggers nominate me for an award — however symbolic — I’m genuinely honored.

So thank you, Ardenrr, for the Wonderful Team Membership award. Musings of a Dancing Wino keeps me in suspense, your sense of humor makes me laugh, and your writing talent humbles me.

Here are my own nominees for the award. Most of these aren’t blogs I’ve been following long-term but rather those on which I found interesting posts related to topics I’ve touched on that may interest my readers. (It feels awesome to say “my readers!”)

Gardencatsandmore — She has cats. She loves gardening. What’s not to love?

For the Rest of Her Life — A blog about the challenges and joys of caring for an elderly mother.

mykeystrokes.com — In Good liberal gone bad I lamented Grandma turning her back on her labor union roots. The post I linked to here cites some interesting statistics about why seniors may be turning against the GOP.

Life with Jess offers a useful checklist for people considering whether they or someone they know could benefit from palliative care.

Our Long Goodbye is the record of one woman coping with her mom’s struggle with Alzheimer’s.

The Intolerable Gap — Interesting commentary on several timely subjects; I admit I’m including it because I don’t remember the generation gap and therefore I’m no boomer. 🙂

with love Jo gives a Macklemore concert rave reviews. Now I’m even more excited about seeing him in October.  If you’re a Macklemore fan too, Grandma rapping to Thrift Shop might make you smile.

bechristbeautiful posted a beautiful religion-based defense of Macklemore’s song Same Love, which forced me to remember not all Christians are fundamentalists.

Caregiver Connections looks as if it could be a valuable resource for caregivers. The post I linked to is uncannily relevant to some of my recent posts.

Chat@Care-giving offers excellent advice about — among other things — avoiding guilt trips.

Senior Homecare by Angels explores why gardening can be good therapy for seniors.

Chocolate Vent writes about something I didn’t even know existed — Silver Alerts.

Life of a Clare Bear posted a hilarious video starring old people with a sense of humor, something  I wish Grandma still had.

Ofcoursevegan introduced me to another topic I was completely unaware of: elderly vegans.

Any bloggers who choose to accept this completely symbolic award can:

  • Grab the logo and put it in a post
  • Link to your nominator, a.k.a. me
  • Nominate 14 blogs of your own

Old people are great — if they don’t live with you

Is Grandma "a sweet old lady who just needs a friend." or "a cranky old lady with no social skills who demands to be taken care of." It depends on whether you can visit then drop her off or you're her primary caretaker.

Is Grandma “a sweet old lady who just needs a friend,” or “a demanding, anachronistic battle-axe devoid of social skills.” It depends whether you can drop in for a visit or you’re her primary caretaker.

I used to like old people.

I held doors for them and picked things up when they dropped them at the store. I checked on them when they lived next door and did odd chores like dishes and taking out the trash. I’m still polite to elderly strangers. It’s the one in my basement I have a problem with.

Of all the things that irritate me about Grandma — and there are a lot — it’s her sense of entitlement that bugs me the most. This nagging angel/devil pair in my head take turns whispering, “She took care of you when you were young. Turnabout is fair play.” and, “When you were a kid you appreciated everything she did for you. I can’t remember the last time she said thank you, can you?”

I’ve always been big on manners — my own, my children’s, even strangers’. It’s not uncommon for me to loudly say “You’re welcome,” when I hold a door for someone who doesn’t acknowledge it. So when I spend a few hours shopping for Grandma and delivering everything to her, I expect a “Thank you!” not a “Where’s my credit card!” The older she gets, the ruder she is. She is not someone I would check on if I lived next door.

Except if I were her neighbor, Grandma would be nice to me. I know this because everybody else who helps her out gets thank yous … tips for chores … offers to pay for gas … I don’t even think this is a conscious decision on her part. I think she reasons she took care of four generations, and by god now someone’s gonna take care of her. I just happened to win the draw.

Luckily, one of Grandma’s drivers seems to have taken a shine to her. Initially Shelly hanging around after she dropped Grandma off made me suspicious. “Does she think I’m not taking care of her? Is she a career criminal who knocks old ladies in the head and steals their money? Why on Earth would she sit down there with Grandma, who makes all kinds of unpleasant noises and retells stories that even new acquaintances have already heard 20 times?” I kept asking myself.

I guess Shelly just likes old people, because today she called Grandma to check in on her. Grandma’s doctor switched her to Pradaxa, which means goodbye Warfarin and bi-weekly lab checks. It also means Grandma doesn’t see Shelly as often. I actually thought about asking Grandma if she wanted Shelly to stop by and visit with her a spell — that’s Grandma-ese for come over and hang out. But Shelly beat me to it.

Grandma’s friend is coming over Sunday, and they’re going out for ice cream. Bless their hearts. I’ll nonchalantly grab the Kleenex ear flap out of Grandma’s hat as she leaves so she doesn’t look completely bonkers. And later, when I’m on my way downstairs to clean up Grandma’s routine messes and I hear her tell Shelly thanks for stopping by, I’ll remind the voices in my head, “Don’t worry. She’s just being nice because that’s not her granddaughter.”

Epilogue
Someone told me this post was mean, so I immediately took it down. But after some minor edits and a second opinion, I think it’s OK to leave up. For years I’ve felt guilty about being a “reluctant caregiver” — I’ve never denied I’m primarily motivated by obligation, not love. I do still love my Grandma, but she’s gone. And the person who replaced her is a real pain in the ass.

But after reading Paula Span’s article, I’ve decided it’s OK to feel this way:

“We need to allow people to be reluctant,” she said. “It means they’re dutiful; they’re responsible. Those are admirable qualities.”

See? I’m not mean. I’m admirable. Save the guilt trips, haters.

Image credit: genika / 123RF Stock Photo

The quest to bathe Grandma

It may not qualify as Herculean, but it's no small feat getting Grandma to take a shower.

It may not qualify as Herculean, but it’s no small feat getting Grandma to take a shower.

Brave Perseus beheaded Medusa.

A laundry list of tasks stood between Jason and the golden fleece.

And Odysseus had to squeak by Scylla and Charybdis to get that gig named after him.

Maybe my quest pales in comparison. But these guys all had the gods helping them out. Listen well and you shall hear how I bathed Grandma armed with nothing but a detachable shower head and a really big towel.

I woke up Sunday morning with a sense of dread I couldn’t quite place. I knew I didn’t have to go to work, and I’d volunteered the night before. Then I remembered: it was Grandma’s bath day. The mere thought sent me back to sleep for several hours.

Eventually I had no choice but to face my fate. I gave Grandma her morning meds and reminded her it was bath day.  Before I could even finish the excuses started. “I haven’t had my breakfast yet, and I didn’t sleep well last night,” she protested. “That’s OK, I’ll be down later when you’ve had a chance to wake up,” I stalled.

I’d bought myself time, but I couldn’t enjoy the day with the task hanging over my head. Finally, around 2:00, I went back downstairs. “Why don’t you get ready to take your shower and I’ll be back down in a little while,” I said. “Where’s your helper?” Grandma slyly asked. “Tam’s busy. I’m giving you your bath today,” I said. “That’s right,” I thought as I went back upstairs, “Sunshine has the day off. Today you’re dealing with the War Department.”

Knowing Grandma’s pace, I vacuumed and cleaned upstairs for a good half hour. When I came back down, she was still milling around aimlessly. “You need to warm that bathroom up,” she reminded me, despite the fact the basement was already uncomfortably warm. I started to protest, but I already knew Grandma approached showers like an ordinary person approached a pit of vipers: fully armed, with no sudden movements and ready to shriek at the slightest thing — all against a backdrop of jungle-like humidity.

After what seemed like an eternity, the bathroom was suitably scorching, the clean clothes were in place, a protective shower cap covered Grandma’s head, and the water was warm — but not too warm. I held her arm as she stepped over the base of the shower door, but she still reached for the water control for balance. “Don’t touch that. It won’t support you and you’ll make the water too hot,” I told her. “I’ve got your arm, just sit down.” She grabbed for the water again before sitting down on the built-in bench. “I need my washcloths! Two of them!” she ordered from the bench. Knowing better than to ask why two, I grabbed them from the shelf and handed them to her.

If you’ve ever tried to stand outside a shower and hold a removable shower head, soap up a washcloth and completely avoid getting wet in the process, you have some idea how the next few minutes went. I handed Grandma the soapy washcloth and stared at the ceiling counting to infinity as I held the water down by her legs. When she’d finished her front it was time for the next feat of simultaneously holding the water, steadying her arm and washing her back. I wished in vain for an opposable big toe or a third arm.

It was impossible to keep the shower head pointed at her feet for this portion of the proceedings, so every time the water got within a foot of her head, she shrieked. By the fourth time I was ready to accidentally-on-purpose spray her in the face, but like all great heroes, I resisted temptation and carried on.

Finally the water portion of the shower was over. But we weren’t finished. We still faced the drying off. The redressing. The water sopping up. The mat rehanging. For someone with no interest in personal hygiene, Grandma is uncannily particular about everything associated with the post-bath experience. I completed these tasks in a whirlwind because if I spent another five minutes in the bathroom my flesh would melt. Once her camisole and underwear were on, she shuffled by me and headed for her living room chair.

Once she was seated, there were a few more shrieks when I placed the sacred sponges between the designated toes, plus one “Ewwwww” for good measure when I put the fresh pair of socks on her gnarled old feet. With a final burst of patience, I helped her put on her two blouses and whatever those things are that cover her legs but are not pants.  At last, the quest was complete.

I grabbed her dirty clothes and headed for the stairs, surprised to hear a “thank you” as I left. At the last minute I realized I didn’t have the mysterious second washcloth …  But Grandma was clean, and the quest was complete. Only a fool would go back.

Image credit: ariwasabi / 123RF Stock Photo

Don’t fear the reaper

For people who aren't looking forward to their bodies outliving their minds, better alternatives may be on their way.

For people who aren’t looking forward to their bodies outliving their minds, better alternatives may be on the way.

Take a walk with me, dear readers, into the not-so-distant future …

You might note I said walk, not drive. That’s because fossil fuels are exorbitantly expensive now and only the uber-rich can afford to drive. Nobody can afford air conditioning either, and thanks to climate change it’s hotter than hell. Corporate greed and the rising cost of living have depleted retirement funds, so there are millions of indigent old people shuffling around in the heat, waiting to die.

Nobody’s kicking back and enjoying their golden years in their back porch rockers — they’re miserable. Some bravely forego their medication and let nature run its course. But fear of death is so ingrained many keep taking the pills the pharmaceutical companies make sure are in plentiful supply. These people are not really living, but they’re not quite dead — they’re in manmade purgatory right here on Earth.

Yuk huh? You’re telling me I slaved away in corporate America for 40-odd years to end up like this? No thanks. Fortunately, an alternate, more optimistic future is also possible.

In this version, people choose when they die, and the process is pharmaceutically enhanced to be pleasant — even enjoyable. Millions of dollars are saved because modern medicine shifts its emphasis from preserving life at all cost to giving people the tools to make the when-to-end-it call themselves. Retirement funds aren’t decimated by expensive, futile treatments because people no longer fear death. The average person consumes fewer resources because life expectancy is replaced with life optimization. We don’t automatically expect to live longer; we control living better.

I realize there are faults with option two: religious beliefs … societal taboos … people with Alzheimer’s or dementia who can’t make choices for themselves … medical breakthroughs yet to be made. But the nightmare first scenario could be reality if mankind stays on its current course. We can’t just keep extending life regardless of its quality; the planet can’t sustain it, and it’s not fair to the young people who shoulder the burden of perpetuating programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

Journalist Alexander Zaitchik explores these issues in depth in his article Global warming, LSD, euthanasia: Bring on the death panels. He combines a lot of ideas I’ve touched on, such as modern medicine’s ability to extend life having a point of diminishing return and my own fears of ending up like Grandma. She told me just the other day she’s not ready to die, but if she could let go peacefully and comfortably would she continue her existence comprised of eating, sleeping and doctor visits? Even if she would I bet a lot of other people in similar situations would opt out.

I’m a pessimist, but I’m not alone. Zaitchik cites numerous examples of fiction tackling end-of-life issues, immortality and a world increasingly hostile to the elderly. He also notes medical research is exploring the therapeutic qualities of drugs like LSD and their potential role in making death a more palatable option. I’d feel a lot better knowing I don’t have to dread the day when my mind gives out but my body keeps going.

What about you? Is this idea blasphemy? Or is it an idea whose time has come? It’s nice to believe everyone will have the health and resources to enjoy a few carefree golden years, but wouldn’t you feel better knowing there’s a Plan B if things go awry?

Image credit: albund / 123RF Stock Photo