A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!
A couple days ago, the women I meet with monthly to break bread, share wine or the excellent beer brewed by the husband of one, and talk about our lives started on a different foot than usual.
In this case, it was mine: a lament about bunion pain.
"Ah," said one; "this is what old folks call 'the organ recital'." We range in age from 40 something to 60 something, and none of us thinks ourselves old. But this night we had some health problems to name. The youngest of us has been struggling with a thyroid problem, and we wanted to know how she was doing. Then came the recital of the joints: metatarsal, knee, and hip. This bone's connected to this pain and that limp. . .
We were a little chagrinned, sharing the chorus of aches and pains. There was more serious business at hand: the last of us with a living mother had lost her the past week.
I thought about my own mother, and how the last half year or so of her life was consumed by trying to keep track of her medications. With a failing memory and a heart that no longer responded well to the harsh drugs that were also poisoning her, it took all she had to keep straight the score of pills she took each day.
I don't want to end my days that way, focused on pains and pills to the exclusion of nearly everything else.
And with all our national conversation about healthcare reform -- or the protest, fear, outrage, distortion, and unanswered questions that substitute for conversation -- we don't seem to be making any progress in considering what the end of life should be like.
A group of Quakers ages 70-100 who live in Crosslands retirement communitiy in Philadelphia spent six months talking about what matters as they approach the end of life. They created these queries, questions Quakers consider in meditation, prayer, or other forms of contemplation. There's not a single word about insurance, drugs, or procedures.
They're questions worth thinking about at any stage.
The author of the article from which I stole these Queries, Living Near the End of Life (Friends Journal, October 2009) is Brigitte Alexander. I've edited them slightly.
1. Do I accept death, like birth, as a normal part of life, even to be welcomed under certain circumstances?
- Have I arranged the practical matters (regarding possessions, location of document, burial, etc.) that will arise when I die so my family is not unduly burdened?
- Am I comfortable with the relationships I will leave behind?
2. Do I look upon the period of old age as an opportunity for reflection on my life and a time for growth and new learning?
- Am I willing to talk with my family and others about my life journey, my evolving beliefs, and my values regarding dying?
3. Do my interactions with others reflect that of God within each of us?
- Do I acknowledge the contributions others bring to the community?
- Do I look for ways to make the lives of others pleasant or to be of service?
- Am I able to keep a generous heart for those who may become more difficult as they age?
- Can I accept help graciously when I and/or others feel in need?
- When speaking about other people, do my words reflect respect?
- In a troubling relationship, am I willing to talk with the other person, both to express myself and to listen, in the hope that the issues may be resolved?
Those are the things that matter. We need a healthcare system that gives us time to pay attention to living our lives.