21 December 2007

i want to free my feet, from the broken glass and concrete...

i've been doing a lot of thinking, after what transpired earlier this week with my neighbor. in a nutshell, i grew very concerned after several days of mail and papers had piled up - and i called the police to check on him. will had gone over and got no answer. i sent another neighbor over who went all around the house, knocking on windows and calling to him and also got no answer. i knew something was wrong.

they found him on the floor. he couldn't get up to answer the door. they went in through a window and rushed him to the e.r. the officer said it looked like he had been there for a couple of days. never again will i be afraid that i'm over-reacting.

i've been to the hospital to visit him. i found out that he had fallen down the stairs from the second floor and shattered his knee. he is in a lot of pain and is very weak. the day before last, they helped him stand and when we went to see him yesterday, he had just been moved to a chair and was sitting. the social worker was able to find his niece from the mail i brought to him - she had sent him a holiday card. so that is good news - i've never seen him have a visitor, and didn't think he had family.

he'll be moved soon, to a nursing facility, for rehabilitation. he is very scared and sad. he's cried several times when i've been there. he lived in that house for 50 years. the thought of never being able to return home... it tears him up inside. i've been talking with about how he feels - and making sure that his fierce sense of independence is able to remain intact, as best it can. he is almost 90. this all is very devastating to him. and i have to say, it breaks my heart when i think about it all.

i spoke to the state social worker today and said that if there was anyway at all he could come home, that i hoped they would try their best to make that happen - and that i would help in any way that i could. she said that depending on how the rehab goes, this could be a possibility. my fears about him being automatically taken from his home for good were alleviated a bit.

i've been surprised by the response of those in the hospital and in the various social workers i've talked with. they act like i did something heroic. what is that? who doesn't look after their neighbors? who doesn't make a simple phone call when they notice that something isn't right? who seriously does not notice when three days worth of newspapers and mail are sitting outside of someone's home and wonder? and what does this say about us all, as a society of human beings? i keep telling people that i did what anyone would do. they keep saying most people wouldn't. i can't get my brain around that.

but i digress.

i had picked up his key and went to his house to fetch his bills for him. he was very worried about them being late. i also had to find his wallet with his i.d. and insurance cards. i saw a picture of him and his twin brother, taken when they were maybe 11 or 12. it was surreal, and a marked contrast from the 8 years that i've known him. once upon a time, he was like me - two able legs to carry him up and down the stairs, relatively healthy, surrounded by family and friends...

i've always had a difficult time with all of the issues that arise with the end of life. i have a difficult time talking with my elders. i've been doing a lot of soul searching as to why that is. i mean, the surest part of being born is dying. it happens to us all. so where does this disjunct stem from? i haven't found an answer. perhaps it is because i know, deep down, that i'm not living my life to fullest that i could be - that too many regrets come with death. perhaps it is all of the many messages that we receive throughout the day that youth is to be harnessed - that our bodies shouldn't age - and if they do, something is wrong - and there is an injection or pill to take or a soap to use to "keep us young." perhaps it is the stereotypes about older people that we have been indoctrinated with since we were very small - they are weak, they have nothing to offer, they are a burden... it is all so very sad to me.

and what we do with our elders! used to be, they would be cared for in their homes, with family. this just isn't possible in many cases. times have changed, families no longer reside on the same streets. and i've been inside of some of these places that "care" for our elders when they can no longer be at home. frankly, some are quite frightening. the residents do not live, they have been demoted, beyond their control, to simply existing.

i think about living my whole life, only to end up in a small room with nothing of my own around me. yeah, yeah - i know - we don't really own anything, we just borrow stuff until we die. we can't take it with us. but you know what i mean. and my neighbor. how will he adjust to this? will he end up in a room with someone that screams out in pain all night long? no phone? no television? nothing that he has had access to when he lived on his own? what does it feel like, to be 90 years old and have everything that you have ever known suddenly, completely be sent topsy turvy? and on top of it, to have a totally lucid mind, but finding your body failing you? i can't even imagine. and sometimes, often times, i don't want to imagine it, to think about it. but these are things that i think we all need to think about.

living wills, DNR's, having emergency contact lists close at hand, basic levels of concern for our brothers and sisters... we need to talk about this now, while we can - to help define the way it will all go down when the time comes. of course this is in complete defiance to living in the moment, carpe diem-ing - something that i try my hardest to accomplish from the time i wake to the time i hit my pillow. all in all, yet another disjunct i have in this BuyNowPayLaterJustDoItAllOthersBeDamnedAgingIsBad culture that we have created for ourselves. but what i know is this: our lives, as we know them, can change. in a heartbeat. just like that.

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