Tuesday, November 13, 2007
She asks to go
Today, my wife will do what she can to get her mother a hospital bed. It's another step on a road that began, I suppose, with her mother and father's leaving the farm, years ago, another step on the road that actually began with that first healthy cry--or even before, at conception. Amazing, isn't it?--the story we all share begins in passionate intimacy.
But that story, her story, is nearing its earthly end, very slowly. Her brothers, all younger, have been gone already for years; a sister, also younger, still visits regularly, brings her comfort and joy. But today, my wife will do what she can to get a hospital bed into their room because her mother's world has grown even smaller. She can't see, she can't walk, she can't use the restroom by herself. Her mind is perfectly clear, and she knows too perfectly well that she's of little use.
Getting a hospital bed means getting rid of the queen-sized bed that's there in the room--and the end of her parents' sleeping together. When they left their house for the home, things were fine; but slowly now, through the years, she's become more and more dependent. One shudders at the steps that remain before the grave. Soon enough, their time in "independent" living will be over.
This week I've been reading student papers, a whole pile of them on the topic of aging, a topic I assigned because, as I told them, they were going to have to care for me someday, me and millions of other Boomers, who are rapidly reaching retirement. In that pile of papers, several times I've read Jeremiads against euthanasia because the issue long been a poster-boy of Christian conservatives--and with good reason. But when my students get on their high horse about it, I tell them that in a short essay, they can't handle that kind of a complex problem. It's no slam dunk.
I tell them the process of dying is far more nuanced than they'd like to think it is. I tell them that 30 years ago already, my God-fearing parents pulled the plug on my grandma rather than have her stay alive in the grip of a machine. I tell them not to be so righteous about it.
My mother-in-law--and my own mother--are ready to go. They'd love to--both of them. They're more than willing to admit that they really have no earthly purpose anymore, and now one of them is suffering more than she needs to on her journey to the end times. Both of them pray for release. Both of them know their creator, know their savior, know that what awaits them is release into the arms of Jesus. Both of them want to be taken. Five hundred miles away in Wisconsin, my mother can still glory in the Packers' winning season, but not much else. My mother-in-law can do little more than pray--for us, I'm sure, but for her to go.
On Sunday my wife took our grandkids to see her. She'd not been out of bed, not done her hair, not been on her feet. She's weak and powerless, thin and gaunt. For the first time, our four-year-old grandson did not want to hug her. I don't know that anyone should have to suffer that level of rejection.
I remember when the general consensus among the legions of Dutch Calvinists with whom I live was that the old country, Holland, was going to hell because they'd legalized euthanasia. Maybe so. Maybe not.
My mother-in-law is dying with dignity, but, believe me, she's been doing that for a long, long time. Long enough.
I can't believe that my generation--the Boomers, the generation who's done our own thing, the original Me Generation--is going to tolerate the level of suffering and indignity my mother-in-law is going through. What's more, I can't imagine that my students' generation is going to foot the bill. I can't imagine that euthanasia will continue to be illegal. Honestly, I can't imagine the Boomers will willingly take the long road my mother-in-law is taking even though she'd rather not.
Maybe when that happens, we'll all go to hell.
I doubt it. Some will go, just as always, to heaven. I'm guessing that in Holland that's true too.
Maybe I'm no judge right now, but we're all tired of the long road my mother's been on--first and foremost, she is. She asks to go. That's her prayer.