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Being Mortal

726176e1-a801-4bdf-bab9-422486ef71fdMany in my world are at the life stage of dealing with [note the tone!] frail aged parents.

For THEM, a magnificent new stroke of a book – Being Mortal by Atul Gawande.

An uplifting read – really! – for the benefit of the group in question – who are beyond speaking for themselves adequately. An extremely lucid surgeon is bent on correcting paths for “dealing” with old folks that only address their “safety” and medicalize them – warehousing them in “hospitals”. If this were to happen to you, you’d quail at the expense – to your life’s quality. Sure this cadre can’t do as much as they used to, but as Monty Python would say – ‘Not dead yet!”.

“The battle of being mortal is the battle to maintain the integrity of one’s life-to avoid becoming so diminished or dissipated or subjugated that who you are becomes disconnected from who you were or who you want to be.”

The “news” that our parents are going to die spurs all sorts of reactions. From wanting to “cure” them, to impatience with their inability to participate in a technologically imposing age, to keeping them from all risk, to just wanting them out of sight and mind.

My Dad is 95, God love him! Watching him cope with the ordinary challenges of life – in this case, eating a bagged lunch made so he could go to church – brought me squarely up against what he lives with – or against! It’s not that the “caregivers” don’t CARE, it’s just that they need more empathy – that is, the ability to transplace themselves into the actual life experience of those they are serving.

Here’s how lunch unfolded. Dad was thirsty – so attempted to drink from the enclosed juice box. With hands shaking, he had to get at the tiny straw attached. Got that off! Dropped it, had to pick it up off the floor and I nearly had to catch him as he tottered. Then with virtually no manual dexterity, he had to try to extract straw from the [ubiquitous – meaning they’re everywhere!] plastic enclosure. Virtually impossible! But somehow, he got it free, then, after several attempts, inserted into the juicebox. Immediately, the juice squirts out the straw! Cleans that up – not an easy task – get up, get tissue, sit back down, mop. Picks up the box – and, because of that modest squeezing, another torrent of juice lands on his front. More cleaning. Just to drink.

Then the sandwich. Wrapped round in – what else – plastic. I don’t know about you but I’m tormented by trying to find the starting edge of that transparent fine material. For, him, with the dim sight of one eye, fingers that are at best blunt and ungovernable, another insuperable obstacle. Somehow he overcomes that. Just to eat a modest lunch.

Cookies – his favourites – another exercise in wrapped frustration.

I didn’t just sit by. But it was hard to experience.

Hearing Gawande’s examples of people who refuse to consign the aged and frail to the dust heap and want to elevate their remaining time to the maximum is indeed uplifting – and truly necessary. I hope these folks prevail before I get there, which will no doubt be sooner than I would like.

Doug Bouey
Catalyst Strategic Consultants Ltd.

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Doug Bouey, President
Catalyst Strategic Consultants Ltd.

Calgary, AB // Phone: 403.777.1144


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