Sunday, November 20, 2016

               I Asked  “why” on Visiting an Alzheimer’s Patient!

Although it is extremely clear to me that asking “why” in the face of the terrrible negatives of life, is futile and even stupid, I still have the surging unconscious roiling within me that struggles to emerge  with shouting and symbolic fist thumping.  I know well that angrily responding to negatives  with a furious why is no route to resolution and peace of mind.  Yet I still do it! I scream affectively to the Lord:  “Why do You allow this to go on? Why do You allow such obscenities to happen at all? These good innocent people—what did they do to deserve such a gruesome finale to their lives?  Why? Why? Why?

I know cognitively it is in responding to the how that I can carry on with peace of mind..   How will I deal with this huge pain (of whatever stripe it might be), is the mature and efficient response.  This is the sensible question,This has  to be the mode  for successful resolution.  I  know this  but I, with multitudes of others,feel the opposite.

With such a cognitive/affective  psychic makeup, I recently visited  a relative in a dementia facility. She is advanced in the disease, unable to read, write, watch television, use the  telephone or carry on a conversaton more than a few words. Her day is eating,sleeping 14 hours a day  and looking vacantly out at some far distant horizon which only she can see. When she does try to talk, it is with a painful  groping for words—-and she will stop and say “I don’t  know what I am trying to say.” Or she will engage in what sounds like incomprehensible babble.

It is exceedingly difficult and unsettling to see this woman who  attained two degrees from an  ivy league school in such an infantile  state..A  woman  who ran complex  nursing departments  in a large New york city medical center…a woman who was charming, easy to meet and a facile conversationalist. ,  Now she was unrecognizable, a puzzlement. A substantively “different” (?) human being. A caricature!

She is replicated multiple times in her fellow “residents” who stare and sleep and eat and drool and spout sounds or words with no apparent  connection to the environment they are in. They rarely truly speak. They look emptily at others. They do  not know the names of their fellow patients and seem not to care.  If anything would fascinate them,it would seem to be food which has apparently an almost hypnotic appeal for them.

The over all atmosphere ,then, would be depressing—even in the best of these  dementia worlds.  This faciity which  is operated by nuns, is superior to many I have seen. It is clean  and bright. A chapel is provided for daily Mass if they could remember what a chapel might mean! Programs are offered  with some limited succcess  but also with a bit of unreal  expectation from these poor people who are confused, angry, afraid, lonely, and debilitated and whose capacity  for real response is seriously limited. The spectrum of the disease is wide, but no matter where the patient is placed on that line, it is sad and unsettling.

Basically, the problem is organic. That is to say that there is  a serious physical deterioration in the brain which makes it impossible to retain data or information stored in the dendrites.  Memory facility is methodically  destroyed until there is nothing left but a vegetable state awaiting death. There is no cure. (As of now)  All one  can do is  stand by and watch  and  do what one can to make life easier for the patient and assist his passage to His Lord.

The atmosphere is bound to invade the souls of the residents.They  all seem to break into passivity, their wills look broken.  Perhaps, this is caused by the heavy unending, unyielding  sameness of routine and the powerful insistence of the”Staff” to obey.  Perhaps it is caused   by the inevitable array of medications they all take daily, not only for specific illnesses but for some kind of  “management” medication. In any event,  there  is much  empty gazing, much nodding off  and much waiting for meals or bedtime. 

Prima facie, one asks —why should this go on? For what purpose?  Is there any real meaning in this terrible panoply? If one is basically pagan, there is little reason to continue this debacle. Progressive governments are already seriously discussing ways—-with humane methods, of course  -  of “terminating” the useless, expensive, time consuming procedures needed to take care of this  non-productive population. Kill them!  Mercifully, but kill them. It is effective and better for them in the long run, anyway. However find another, less threatening word than “kill”  but which has the same imperative to do the job.

Parenthetically, a kind of reasoning,  somewhat similar yet different, is used to justify the brutality of killing young humans in the womb.”It is expensive to have babies. It is very inconvenient now. It is an
encumberance  to us who have to do the caretaking. We don’t  want this additional burden.Times are tough enough.”  And endless variations on these themes.

For a believing Christian, however, there is a huge  transcendental truth running through all of this.   Namely, every single human being, regardless of age or physical condition, or mental disfunction or socio-economic status, or race or religion  or education or political affiliation is a true child of Almighty God Himself. Each is to be treated as such regardless of anything. Control of Life and its expectancy belongs to Him.  It is His Call as to when life shall cease for any child of His. There is (generally) no justification to take anyone’s life—that prerogative belongs to the Creator Himself. 

Street assasins, thieves, cartels, angry husbands and frustrated wives, blood thirsty military leaders lusting for personal glory, all violate the sense of the sacred about human life. Society  has always considered Murder  as one  of the extremely serious offenses which oppose God’s will and the rights of Man. Everyone has the right to life, young and old, and even those should be protected who cannot defend themselves in the womb! Euthensia and abortion,  when stripped of the  buzz words, are unjustly taking human llife..Some will label it more clearly,  murder!

No matter how inconvenient the  “dementias” are or can be,they are His children and they must be protected and cared for.  They cannot  be simply ”terminated”  by a deluded  and sometimes evil government! 

But where do the carertakers fit into this scheme?

Does any one tell us of their spiritual life ? Those who feed and clean and clothe and watch the mentally ill?—Have many seen the patience and care and the love  nurses and aides give to these unfortunates?  It is generally more than a job. To see the tenderness in word, action and mood is an inspiration.  To see the staff move into the “world” of the patient  with the more than infrequent unreasonable demands, calls to mind the mandate of the Master……”…whenever you did it to one these, my least brethren, you did it to Me…”

I saw them caress those sad persons from whom  others  (even families) flee after a perfunctory visit, their consciences temporarily salved—- leaving  a cheap box of candy  to show how caring they are! The caretakers are there  24/7—often frustrated themselves,  elated when  they see the dementia people light up at the attention and  saddened when they get little or no response.  

It is more stressful  than caring for a baby where one gets joy and fun. It is a difficult ministry,  (an appropriate word description especially for  caretakers with a spiritual dimension)   which  carries the ever present mood factor of death ——which can come at anytime. Several times I have seen a blanket covered body being taken out by  black suited, business like funeral directors. But no matter what! It is the Human Famify Under God.  It is the duty of  all of us to defend and protect life—-
Do we take the lives of criminals?  Do we kill each other in wars? Is it moral?  Serious  reflection and prayer and awareness  are needed to resolve and understand the huge mysteries of life. Others, more talented than  I, must wrestle with the wider picture. I, as one little human being, simply react to the inexplicable fact of  dementia and pray the Good Lord to  give us insights so that we can respond as loving Christians at least to  this one terrible imponderable.

written  in New York City, 2016, at  the age of 95.

1 comment:

Your bloviating TennisTitan said...

Father Jim...the deterioration of the brain is far worse than physical maladies.
Keep thinking and writing to stave off that inexorable decline. Tom Briscoe