Would you want to know?


Life is good, peaceful, and creative.  Mom’s been in great spirits.  I told her about Uncle Charlie living to be 104-1/2 (see Feb. 16: ‘Sixty-five today’ blog).  I actually read her the story.  She liked it very much, but she got the people all mixed up and said, “Isn’t it great that he was like me (and she made a little circle with her index finger, which is her ‘shorthand’ for dementia) when he was 60 and then he lived to be over a hundred?”  I didn’t correct her. Maybe you would have. But she started eating more and walking further after that, almost as if being ill was a ‘rite of passage’ that people had to get through to make it to advanced age. Perhaps that’s true.

I remember listening to a CD about someone’s father-in-law, who was suffering from – I don’t know – something…it doesn’t matter.  The guy said that he and his wife told the doctor that they did not want the old man to be told under ID-10044884 FreeDigitalPhotosany circumstance how long he had left to live, which at that point was not long.

So the father-in-law just went on living his life, enjoying his neighbors, his garden, and his family, unconcerned, believing that everything was fine.  Then after months (maybe it was even years, I don’t remember the story exactly) he went to the doctor’s office and it just so happened that his regular physician was on vacation.  The covering doctor didn’t know about the agreement with the daughter and son-in law, and he blurted out all the gory details.  The dear man went home, stopped washing, changing his clothes, eating, and went downhill – fast.  Too bad.  He might have enjoyed being around a little longer.

I’ve read of so many cases where people wished they hadn’t been told about their illness.  In one instance, a husband had six great months with his  dying wife, unencumbered by the ‘sword of Damocles.’ They planned, they dreamed, they created memories.  Did she suspect?  Maybe.  But she never let on.

There was another story about a 69-year-old man who had surgery for cancer and was given only two months to live.  The wife begged the doctors not to tell him because it would ruin the last bit of time they’d have together, and they reluctantly agreed.  He wound up sticking around until he was 86, and died from something entirely different.

I think my father, who passed in 1986, would probably have been one of the people who would rather not have heard the words, “Nothing can be done.”  He decided not to be a guinea pig and checked himself out of the hospital.  He literally went home, never got out of bed again, and just ‘waited for God.’ (Actually, that’s the name of a hilarious BritCom about life in the Bayview Retirement Home.)  He was gone in just six weeks.

I understand that in China, it’s quite normal to tell people they’ve only got a cold.

Then again, there are people who feel that it’s only when you know the truth that you can make plans, say your goodbyes, and burn your journals. My ex spent three years after his diagnosis doing nothing that wasn’t ‘health-related.’ Surgeries, chemo, radiation, feeling sick, more surgery, drugs, doctors’ appointments, bills, more drugs.  Sorry, not my way to go!  And as for tying up all the loose ends… he didn’t even make a will or change the beneficiary on his annuity to his children.  His second wife, who he was divorcing, got it all.  I rest my case.  May he rest in peace. (She was found dead shortly after.  I didn’t do it.)

One surgeon made a comment on the dailymail.co.uk that ended, “…why rob someone of one of the most meaningful aspects of being alive in the first place?” OK, OK, everyone is entitled to their opinion but, please.  Meaningful aspects?  I gave that one a ‘thumbs down.’  I can think of a heck of a lot of ‘aspects’ of being alive that have more meaning.

I guess it’s clear which corner I’m in.  I don’t mean offend or to sound morbid when I write about death, it’s just that somewhere along the line, we’ve lost the ‘natural-ness’ of it – the naturalness of both the ending and the beginning of life.

I mean, when my children were born back in the ‘70s, obstetricians didn’t say in the delivery room, “Congratulations, you have a baby.”  They said to me (if I remember correctly), “It’s little Scottie!  You have a beautiful boy!”  Yes, I bought yellow sheets and blankets and clothes in case “he” turned out to be a “she.”  But I also bought blue and green stuff and would have no qualms about putting a girl in them.  What’s the big deal? (I’ll admit, I never bought anything pink.  Call me a chauvinist.  Macht nicht.)

By the time my second child was on the way, I was asked, “Do you want to know the sex ahead of time?” I think doctors were starting to promote the use of ultrasound at that time.  Mothers would get a photograph to tack to the fridge of the baby in utero showing the little….

“Absolutely not!  And don’t tell my husband, either!” My eyes blazed.  I was ready to do battle.  I knew my husband wouldn’t be able to keep a secret, and I didn’t want to either find out ‘by accident’ or be the last one to know.

Believe it or not, I got a lot of criticism from people.  “How can you plan unless you know if it’s a boy or a girl?”  Plan for what?  The color of the walls? Who cares that they’ll share a room for a while?  I’ll paint two walls blue and two pink…it doesn’t matter!  And if it did turn out to be the ‘wrong’ sex, what would you do?  Send it back? Put it up for adoption?  Of course not.  You’d deal with it. You’d love it.

Christopher didn’t have a name for three days because I was so sure he was going to be a girl.  I was going to use the name leftover from the last time: Kiersten.  I never thought of one for a boy.  They wouldn’t let me leave the hospital until I had one for him, or he might be nameless still.  He’s 44 now.  I don’t think it left him with any lasting damage.

So the question of the day is, “How much detail would you like to know?”  Do you think that in addition to a Living Will, or Directive to Physicians, or Do Not Resuscitate form that there should be some sort of document that people can carry around in their wallet next to their Medicare or Healthcare card?  Something that legally gives the bearer the right to remain blissfully ignorant?

As for your opinions, I do want to know.  There’s a place down below this blog (and all of them) that you can click to comment and let me know what you think – about anything.  I’d love to start a dialog and answer any questions you may have about Natural Caregiving.

Otherwise, next time I’ll tell you how much I love raw Manuka honey.

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