Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Patterns of Departure
We all come into this world the same way.
Looking for a way out through a labrynth of contracting muscle tissue, seeking that liitle ray of light at the end of the tunnel, as we navigate through, still connected to our mothers by the umbilical bond. A gasp of fresh air, a feeling of being held upside down. Come to think of it, we dont really know what upside down is, we havent really lived in co-ordinates , for sometime now, suspended as we are in amniotic fluid. But someone says we are held upside down, so we will go along. Just in time for that little whack from the white coated big people with gloves and masks. And for the first time we burst forth crying out our pleasure and / or displeasure at arriving like this, in what purports to be , our life.
Then it's years and years of babydom, indulgent childhood, precocious teenage, dangerous and carefree adolescence, the confident twenties. Marriage,children, their tears and laughter, welcoming new members into the family, losing old ones, the cycle goes on.
One was priviledged to be the member of the particular family, and one learnt to appreciate the special qualities of people as they endeavoured to bring you the best life had to offer.
And then it was time for them to go.
Tired limbs, thinning hair, receding hairlines, and verterbral columns perenially physically displaying a question mark There was so often a tussle between taking in the oxygen, and your heart demanding more. Having to refuse that extra helping of cake at the granddaughter's birthday, because of a tired digestive system; falling asleep in the rocking chair, with the mouth open, while watching the 35th rerun of the famous 1945 movie, the lead actors of which were no more. Having to take more than a couple of starts while trying to elevate oneself out of a chair. Trying hard to listen to someone say something, thinking it's about you, and realising that its not that they speak softly; its more like you can't hear well these days. And its so difficult to read the paper now; whats there to read these days anyway ? War, money, waste, disasters, lying; sometimes some good, like a great lecture by a great leader of men, a discourse by a holy man, and jokes by a child, and the peals of silent laughter keep resonating in your brain.
And unlike the way you came into this world, there are different ways of saying goodbye, different patterns of departure.....
She was always the principled, godfearing, strong minded one. No effort was ever enough where her children and grandchildren were concerned. Exercise was a BIG thing in her life, long before the American Heart Association started their 10,000 steps a day program. Her theory was that only a body exertion earned you the right to eat. So daily exervise was a given. She was following the food pyramid, when it was dismantled and lying around waiting for someone , from say, Stanford, to rebuild it. Her prayer to God, before dinner, was a daily occurence, and she fasted every Monday.
Having just returned from a trans-pacific flight of 24 hous duration, she was tired. Physically, beacuse of the flight. Mentally because she was returning to a dormant, tired life after a vibrant visit attending a grandchild 's graduation, where she got to meet all his professors, who were delighted to note that she came all the way at this advanced age. She wouldnt have had it any other way. Life was about facing up to various situations to the best of ones ability. Life was about sticking with the true and tested, honest, occasionally considered oldfashioned, but very solid standards by which life was to be lived. Of course , most of the grandchildren could do no wrong. When one of her grandchildren at 7, challenged her to accompany him on her own bike (actually her daughters) to the park beyond the lake, she sportingly agreed. On the way back, the exultant grandson suggested exchanging bicycles, and being a grandma, she agreed. Except the childs bicycle was the easyrider style. But a promise was a promise, and she came back, riding back with him, a great combination of Gatsby meets Jon Voight, to the unabashed delight of several folks on the road.
She had been shopping after a lunch at a mall, and although a bit tired, she decided to indulge the children. Returned home, spending a great funfilled afternoon with family. Lay down for a while. Stared feeling uneasy. Wished away obvious thoughts from her head. Tried some easing postures. No effect. She was taken to the hospital where she collapsed . That would have been the end. But it wasnt. That was not the pattern of her life. It wouldnt be the pattern of her death.
Tubes,beepers, electrodes, needles; anything that could be attached was attached to her persona. In the Intensive care unit, began the last fight of her life. She had been through so many tough times, this was just one more. Her child abroad was informed, and he began his long 22 hour journey back. She lived and improved on just raw willpowr. The doctors had never seen anything like this. Thirty six hours later, Tuesday at dawn, as her sons plane landed, she was getting rid of the last of her several tubes, and for a while , it was all systems go, albeit, tired systems. (And she was pleased because she had automatically "fasted" on her Monday !! ).
She lived another day, to see her youngest come to her. She fussed about whether he had eaten, who was with the grandkids, fired him for wasting his time like this in hospital. That night as her children sat by her bedside, she turned away from them when she realised the footfall of Death. She had held on for 24 hours and it had exhausted her. It was time to cut loose, all bonds that would cause a lingering of the spirit.
There was one sharp breath intake. She never exhaled. A pattern so heartrending in its peaks and troughs, a tough lady waging a tougher battle, showing how its done.
And he was the total opposite.
A writer, a dreamer, he was very comfortable with utopia. Nitty gritty house and children situations were not his style. Problems got solved, solutions appeared . A great one for organic basic nutrition and old systems of medicine, his greatest joy was challenging modern doctors. Like her, he sometimes worked on sheer will power.
At one point in his 70's he was unable to sit due to a herniated disk. He loved to order the household around. NSAID's were a 4 letter word in a 5 letter world. He listened to the doctor, then refused MRI's amd Xrays. They prescribed some meds which reduced his pain temporarily. Whereupon, he undertook learning of some great yoga exercises, all religiously followd , and 6 months later, he was accompanying his granddaughter on a climbing trip across the neighbouring hill. He read voraciously, wrote prodigiously, and campaigned with great passion for his pet projects in vegetarianism, eye donations, forestation, rural deveopement, , and subjects as diverse as education of the girl child, and rehabilitation of women following the oldest profession of the world.
Everytime he felt age catching up, he walked more, to prove a point, mostly to himself, but sometimes to others too. The one day he fell down, and hurt himself. The doctors found an aneurysm, and asked him to take some meds, and avoid certain exercises. He reacted to this in a typical way. Gave up taking meds after a month, and simply continued doing the specific exercises they told him to avoid. He'd even call up the doctor , and tell him all this, and tell him how great he was doing WITHOUT all HIS medicines. He wrote health articles where he professed to know the secret of longevity. And peple flocked to see him, learn exercises from him and take his nutrition advice.
Like I said there are patterns and patterns. Of Departure.
The graph which was coasting along, on a plateau now started a slight slide. Movement reduced. Energy reduced. Over a year, his favourire exercise of walking almost stopped. He was slowly confined to bed. Every now and then one of the physiological body systems would get into a tangle, and need straightening out by a doctor. There was a feigned indifference to the prescribed meds. When the body couldnt do much else with the physical systems, given his strong heart and lungs, it started messing around with the brain. The reading and writing got tiring. So did people. So he stopped remembering them. The he stopped remembering places and events. Finally he was completely confused in time.
There was a dream type quality to his last few months. He had delusions of great grandeur. He would blithely wish away his physical afflictions, and get into a rage on finding it still there. Heard voices somewhere. He was always a great eater of traditional food, and that continued . His children and their children came by and stayed with him. He knew and they knew what lay ahead. But he continued to say to all who enquired that he was in excellent health and there was nothing wrong with him. He would say that he walked 2 miles everyday. It was the ultimate manifestation of translating what you will and you want-to-happen , into something verbal, just enough to cheat youself. Complicated, but true.
He became so weak that swallowing tired him. So he would tell those who fed him, that he was full.
Full, not tired.
He did that on the last night. His daughter was feeding him. He motioned to her to stop, whispering that he was full. Everybody took a small break at this point, it was a routine thing. Fifteen minutes later, when she went back with the soup, it was all over. Just like that. It was as if the slow slide of the graph from a plateau had finally started along the asymptote. It was a game of hide and seek amongst us. He tricked us into believing it was just another break, and the graph quietly , asymptotically went to zero, as if cocking a snook at all those around. He had managed to convince everyone so well, with his great powers of recovery from so many afflictions, that no one thought death was so imminent.
Both patterns of departure. So different in style. But very equal in magnitude. And the high intensity drama over 24 hours, and the gentle slide over a few months, both have something to tell about the persona and the style of living of the person.