Saturday, August 05, 2006

Grace of the Eskimo?

Sometimes people send thoughtful comments rather than post them, like this email from my sister-in-law, Betsy Krogh:

“I particularly appreciated your ‘militant’ belief that having family care for the very young, the elderly as well as folks who are sick, dying, and disabled is preferable to institutional or professionalized care. And your observation that professional care givers are usually poorly paid, often immigrants or other folks who can't find other better paid work...not necessarily people who are gifted in this kind of caregiving work, or following a calling to do it.

I think home and family care is the best way if it is possible. I felt that when I was a stay-at-home mom all those years …

I was also appreciating that out of love and/or duty and/or the willingness and ability to sacrifice your time and energy, you are caring for mother so well. It is a mitzvah, for sure ...”

Yesterday a stranger posted a comment about people tossing out elderly relatives like discarded rags. Sometimes I can relate to that. Last night at 3 am, for instance, when Bea demanded food. I do not like to give sleeping pills on a regular basis, especially after she has been asleep for a day or two already, but being awakened in the middle of the night turns me into a zombie.

I wonder if Bea would be alive today had we chosen the nursing care option? While she has an incredible will to live, I am not convinced that a prolonged stay in a nursing home would have had appeal. She hated being at the rehabilitation center. As soon as I got to Pleasant Bay, she would say, “When can I go home?”

I was asked recently if I don’t regret having assumed Bea’s care. Sometimes, yes, I do. Sometimes I wish she would just die. I do not understand why she does not want to leave this life. My mother has literally become skin and bones. It is hard for a daughter to witness, hard to have her so diminished mentally. Still, our reward is that frequent toothless smile, a rare occurrence while at Pleasant Bay.

It is almost impossible to talk to Bea about passing. Rill tried to reach her through poetry. Perhaps we should also try music? Here is what Bartok’s 2nd Concerto for Violin inspired Bea to write in 1972:

“Education is no colorful appurtenance. It is to help us through the vicissitudes of life – technical education to handle the material vicissitudes and give pleasure to the logical mind; education in the arts and humanities to strengthen the spirit and give life and necessary expression to the emotions.

Tenderness is all; it even makes possible the release of passion.

Art must relate to people. And, so it will inevitably reflect its times or, as the artist is intuitive, be a precursor for its times.

Wise men like A. N. Whitehead – though not at artist himself – look to the artists for explication of life’s meaning.

Must we be prepared to take to ourselves other people’s suffering? How to do so without being crushed? How, if we may be making it an excuse for working out of our own suffering or that of people for whom we are or have been to some degree responsible?

How can the world’s problems be worked out unless we can curb population?

As the world’s resources lessen, can we learn from the Eskimo the grace of older people taking themselves off out of consideration for the living, at the point where they might otherwise be a burden?”


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