by Kalí Rourke
Mom Rourke was declining at 92 years old. The scalpel sharp intellect and memory we had enjoyed for years was slowly but inevitably eroding, and for a while, Mom railed in anger and frustration at her loss of control.
We learned so much as my husband’s older sister cared for Mom during this hard and challenging time, and it changed our view of aging forever.
Traveling along her journey, we discovered this fascinating book that I highly recommend, no matter what stage of life you are in. “Being Mortal,” by Dr. Atul Gawande, opened my eyes and my mind to the realities of aging and dying in America.
Dr. Gawande tells a series of important stories that illustrate how mortality has changed in our country just as aging has. We rarely die “at home” any longer and more often our last moments of life are in the hands of professional medical personnel and in the grip of the “machinery of last resort;” treatments that can leave us feeling cold, isolated and perhaps a bit like a cyborg.
Consider reading the book and having conversations with your family that may be hard.
Don’t wait until death is in the next room, tying tongues with fear, guilt or sorrow. Open that door now so that it is more possible to open it again when the time arrives to put into action the preferences and directives you only talked about before.
There are critical questions that should be at the forefront of all aging or end of life conversations: “What is important to you? What is most important to try to keep in your life until the end? What is most important to try to include or avoid in your death?” We were grateful we were able to ask these questions of Mom Rourke before it was too late. They were not huge requests and were very achievable!
You may think you know how your loved ones would answer, but often we don’t unless we ask. They may surprise us! Listen to them and ask again as the terrain of aging changes them. Don’t wait until senility sets in and confusion or memory loss make it difficult to express what is most important to them. If you wait too long, you may miss your chance.
Dr. Gawande has changed how I look at aging, terminal illness, hospice care, and most importantly, death. It takes conversations to facilitate a “good death” for your loved ones rather than to say goodbye with regret or guilt over a “bad death.”
America doesn’t like to talk about mortality, and you and I are the only ones who can change that, so consider doing it. Think of it as the first step down a road we build together that leads to people who are as in control of their aging and deaths as possible.
My husband and I are both now thinking about how aging and death can be made better for everyone. Stay tuned.
Kalí Rourke is a wife, mother, writer, singer, and active volunteer. She is a Seedling Mentor and a champion for children’s literacy with BookSpring. Kalí works in philanthropy and as a Mentor for the Young Women’s Alliance.