Growing Old – Gracefully 6

A dignified and positive end.

In our earlier discussions we have examined all the positives we can apply to make our lives as full and fruitful as we can make them.  Growing old for all of us is not without a certain inevitability. We often avoid the subject – but life, we all know, is finite.

Birth, life and death we all experience it.  For the life of me I have no recollection of my birth, but having witnessed two since that time, it seems to me, that birth is a bit of a stressful time for mother and baby. Whilst we all know mum suffers, it can’t be much fun struggling down the birth canal. For all that, birth is a joyous occasion and family and friends welcome another human. The pain is washed away, as we embrace a new life into our world.

At the other end of the spectrum, when someone dies, we are almost always washed in sadness and grief.  The end, of life and of being comes to us all, fulfilling life to the last moment is something we should all aspire to do. Like flowers or trees we fade either with an onslaught of sickness or a gradual failure of our vital organs. Sometimes peacefully, sometimes in agony. There is no escape.

As with birth, beyond our knowing, as is death unknown.  Like all creatures and plants we dissolve back into nature.  There are as many theories and religious beliefs about the afterlife, many are a great comfort to many.  However, they all accept our physical end. However we dispose of the physical remains, it seems to me, it doesn’t much matter.

What does matter, is that the end of life is as fruitful as it can be for both the departing and those who remain. The majority will leave this existence with reluctance, many will leave relieved and others may leave in darkness and pain. In our western society where often people die alone, we should consider such happening a disgrace.  Surely everyone who passes deserves to have their hand held.  Alas it is not so. Whilst we may not mourn the lonely we can strive, at least, to lighten their darkness by giving them some of our time.

There are many institutions who give that special care, they cherish the lost, embrace the lonely and heal their pain.  There are hospices, and shelters, there are hospitals and homes, in all these places human dignity is upheld by those who care. Praise be, they are many, their name is legion.

Some people experience severe emotional and physical suffering at the end of life despite receiving excellent palliative care. Research shows that 17 people a day in the UK would die in pain even if there was universal access to the highest quality palliative care. There are other symptoms beyond pain that cause suffering and not all these symptoms can be controlled. They include nausea, constipation, fungating wounds, faecal vomiting, and rapid loss of blood caused by terminal haemorrhages. There are those with terminal illness who see themselves progressing toward death hopelessly losing their abilities to breathe, or swallow, in constant anguish. They want to be helped to end their suffering.  Losing autonomy can also result in severe psychological suffering. Those opposed to assisted dying acknowledge there will always be a group of people whose suffering cannot be relieved by even the best palliative care.

I believe the case for assisted dying is unassailable, of course with all the legislative safeguards. Those who are dying, without hope of recovery, and who are suffering untold distress need to be loved and their suffering put to an end by mutual consent. Love and care come in many guises.

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