By: Cynthia Breadner
“All that lives must die, passing through nature to eternity.”
William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2
Today is a day of earned celebration as Italy takes home the cup for their big win playing soccer, or as it is called elsewhere “football”. As I watch the news recounting the celebrations, it is with joy I watched people together in community with a common goal to be celebrating and sharing the love of a sport or activity. Being alone, or solo is not how we are meant to be. We are social beings and in the animal kingdom, this is evident when all things gather.
That said, as the pandemic has continued, our ability to watch or stream online programming at home offers so much entertainment people may not notice they are alone! One can feel they have friends when watching three, four, five, or even 10 seasons of a program all in one swoop. The characters become your friends. I remember a fantasy movie from my childhood or youth, where a person is standing before a wall of screens and has a script in their hand. They are an actor in a drama from their own living room. That is all I remember and if anyone can identify this drama, I would love to know the name of it. Regardless of that, our choices of entertainment with the addition of NetFlix, Amazon Prime, CTV streaming, GlobalTV streaming, and CBC GEM no one can say they are bored. The world is one’s oyster searching for that pearl of enjoyment. Is this good? I am unsure. Entertaining, yes! Good? My jury is still out.
One of the downsides to so much viewing entertainment, I find my body is stiff. My back and sit muscles sometimes feel the stress of sitting in one place for too long. Evidence that I watch too much! However, I wonder what else can I do in a time where we are constantly threatened and reminded to keep our distance. It seems we are pushed into a solitary life. The chair where I sit has become my friend and my place of comfort and a companion that feels safe and easy. This action in my life is a reminder of when my mom died, and we cleaned out the house where she had lived for over 40 years. I took the sofa she had purchased recently for my own new apartment. I had lived in one room with a bed, out of my car, and transient for a few years going to school and ended it with staying with her in my childhood home, providing companionship and care. In the fall of 2009, I was heading to Toronto to begin the Masters program and as a family, we decided to prepare mom for a move into formal care in the fall when I moved to the city. I was 50 years old that summer and, with grown adult children, was quite alone in the world. As the youngest child of my mother, I was the only one able to live with her and not leave others alone at home. My self-discovery in this journey was huge.
I discovered how much my mother depended on the television as her entertainment and this was pre-streaming, pre-NefFlix, pre-online. She had a satellite dish so was blessed with many choices, yet she always landed on the same programs. The couch I sat on in my new apartment always transported me back to the vision of her perched on the edge watching her “story” (The Young and the Restless), ready at a commercial, to fly out of the room and peel the potatoes or stir the soup. This newer sofa replaced one that had broken down in the one spot where she sat. This new sofa had the indent of her bottom ever so lightly that it gave me comfort. I could believe her spirit was sitting there making this indent long after she was gone. Little did I realize how much I would miss her when she was gone. I was warned. A warning I did not take to heart. I ignored it and guffawed at the possibility I would never miss my mother, I said, rolling my eyes. That said, after her death and 12 years later I still miss her so much.
This sofa represented her alone time after dad died. It also represented the years before he died. The times where she felt so guilty watching TV when she thought she should be busy with something else. The hours she watched and enjoyed this new type of entertainment that came to her later in life. Mom and dad did not even have a television until the late ’50s and so for her, it was still a novel idea and something new! As I looked at the sofa now in my living room I could return to my vision of her perched on the sofa watching her favourite programs. On the 26” floor model console along with her story, she watched Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. She caught up on the news and her favourite in later years was Reba and Everybody Loves Raymond. I can remember and see her watching The Price is Right every morning from 11 – noon and just when the winner of the showcase was announced she would jump up and fly out to the transistor radio on the kitchen counter and turn it on to hear the funeral announcements from CFOS in Owen Sound. If there were any, they would be announced precisely at 11:56 a.m. right before the noon news. Her timing was impeccable, and her routine was solid. As she listened dad would slide open the patio screen door or push open the sticky wooden door coming from the “back” kitchen, home for lunch from the apple orchard. He would hang his hat on the same peg, sit in the same chair, and lunch prayers would be said over a sandwich and a coffee.
We moved to the house in Heathcote in 1970 when I was 11 years old. My mom and dad both died while living there. Mom’s last days were the same routine even though she could no longer jet from the television room to the radio she still managed to time it right, so she never missed the funeral announcements. She would push her walker out to the kitchen during the last commercial break at about 11:45 of The Price is Right, return and watch the end of her show, then as the music started indicating the announcements, she would push her walker back out to the kitchen and listen as she slowly walked. I often wondered if she pined to hear her own name to escape the loneliness. Both she and dad died in LTC very shortly after leaving this home. My dad died within three or four months of moving and mom was only officially there for three weeks. While mom was able to watch her favourite programs in her last days, she did so while staring out the window into a parking lot, sharing a room with a stranger. They stayed in their home for as long as we thought possible. I see now with what I know, they could have both stayed at home longer if I knew then what I know now.
As I watch my own favourite programs and sit in the quiet of my solitary life, and I wonder what my third trimester will look like. I feel closer to my parents and my older siblings as we all age. Fear sets in as I interact in LTC with all the aging and watch their lives in our current care pattern. Each and every person has my mother’s face and I spend quality time caring for them with a gentle voice and a song if they cannot talk to me, I sing to them. I wonder what care will look like in 25 years when I need it. What I do know is something must change, I am just not sure how to change it. How do you turn the Titanic? We all know that story and our elder care system is the Titanic, quietly cruising in the dark, straight towards disaster because no one knows how to fix it. I do my part staying the course and will go down with the ship, because this ship will go down, taking the frail, the elderly, and the delirious with it.
To not leave this pondering in such a dark place I want to offer some hope. Hope begins with the family unit. How does one die at home? With planning and care. With a community of care and conversation. I was afraid and I was angry when my parents needed me. I thought my life was more important than their last few years. I wish now I had given what was needed to make their last days as beautiful as I could. That said, I want to help others plan for end of life. As we plan for the birth of a baby with joy and beauty, we can do the same for the birth of a soul into the next life. Letting go and the best care possible is at hand. The current system is broken, so be the change you want to see in the world, begin now to plan for your own end of life, and talk with your aging loved ones about what to do when their time comes. If I can do nothing else but bring awareness to choose education and passion around end-of-life care I will be happy. There is always a choice, and good planning for a good death brings joy and peace in the years to come. As the next few years of an aging population who will be demanding and more financially prepared than ever before, let’s work together to make a good death possible. It is not “if” we die it is “when” we die, and embracing death as the next adventure and heading there with acceptance and joy is how life can be lived fully. Our lives are a program that will be in reruns in the memories of those who knew us. When they watch will they watch with love or regret? Be the director of your own movie and make it a love story to be remembered and have people watch it so often they leave a dent in the couch where their bum has been.
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