Today would have been my parents' 70th anniversary.
They were two extremely intelligent people (both attended high schools for the "gifted" in NYC), active and productive -- but degenerated to become like helpless infants.
"Buddy," my father, died on 7/21/09 at age 87. He had a very full life and finally decided to shut down while in a nursing home. He enjoyed singing old songs to the staff, and grinned while doing a dump into his diaper. Pop eventually stopped wearing his glasses and hearing aid and asked my mother to hire a hit man for him.
Rita, my mother, is 91 and has severe dementia.
She's in a nursing home and doesn't know she should be celebrating, sometimes doesn't recognize her children, and seldom says more than "NO!" -- even when she means yes.
When she was more lucid (even a few months ago), she sometimes articulately described hallucinations, such as my father climbed out of his grave and married another woman. Often she substituted words and it obviously pained her when she was inarticulate. Sometimes she'd use a vague term, like "device" instead of "seat belt." Other times the substitution made no sense, like "marshmallow" for "checkbook."
A while ago we noticed that she had exchanged eyeglasses with another resident of the home. Neither woman noticed. More recently she lost a lens from her glasses -- but the lens was from in front of her blind eye. She no longer reads, so the glasses were put away.
Yesterday, bro Marshall and I were at mom's nursing home to discuss final plans. No feeding tube, no heroic measures, just keep her as comfortable as possible.
She shares a room with a slightly older old lady. They have two TVs in the room, a few feet apart. Sometimes they silently display two different programs, but neither woman seems to notice or complain. It's electric wallpaper.
My mother had a powerful brain, but her body suffered greatly over the years.
She's had various body parts replaced, and even had a broken neck. She fell from her bed (or maybe her wheel chair) a few months ago and broke a leg. She has not been able to stand up for several years. In school, mom won an award for penmanship. She knit, crocheted and made ceramic objects. Now she can't hold a fork or spoon, or release her grip from a handkerchief without assistance.
(OK, time for a humorous interlude: mom once broke a toe by kicking Marshall in the ass.)
At mom's 90th birthday party, her long-time doctor, Mark Schwartz, said, "modern medicine can keep people alive long after the parts wear out, but there's no quality of life."
I'm scheduled to become 68 years old in two months. I am not looking forward to 88.