Friday, 7 June 2013

How Much Time is Enough?

I read the other week about a three year old Salt Spring Island girl who passed away after a car accident. I thought about the special kind of hell her family must have now entered and how every moment that passes and every special occasion will be a reminder of her absence - the tyranny of what could have been. It is hard for me to equate anything I may be experiencing with this overwhelming loss of one so young.

Conversely, after a few days in hospital - which is increasingly the domain of the very old - one can't help but ponder how technological advances can keep us going long past our natural sell-date - when quality of life is questionable at best and the daily indignities of helplessness reveal themselves in uncomfortable ways. Either of two inevitabilities seem to occur if you last long enough - a mind as sharp as a nail inside a body that fails to obey the simplest command or a mind that has drifted into Neverland with a body that continues to move and twist and carry on in the oblivion. Nurses and others do their best with these charges - but you can feel the frustration seeping in - and there are uncomfortable moments when the touch of a withered arm or the tone of voice seems a little too sharp and the language often becomes a kind of forced condescension one might use on a child who is misbehaving. And I sat there thankful that during my stay I could drag my I.V. cart around the hallways by myself and get my own drink of water - avoiding the raw and complete dependence of my fellow patients. Family members would show up occasionally or on a pre-set schedule, sitting dutifully by mom or dad's bed, wrapped in the goodness of fulfilling a duty they didn't particularly enjoy, but being present nonetheless. I imagined them ticking off a box each day, no real meaning or emotion but a sign that they'd been a good child - while waiting for an end that will not come.

I think about all of this in the context of contemplating how much time is "enough" on this earthly soil. What moment constitutes enough before it is acceptable or natural to go? How long does one fight to carry on when the body is failing and when is intervention about what other people want when your body has naturally and emphatically spoken?


  1. A very good question Michelle and one that of course I have no answer to on the larger scale. Our family has had the experience of loss and I find they fall on both sides of the fence and sometimes teeter in the middle in the "too short but well lived" category. When my father in-law passed away at 78 after a 2 year battle with cancer, I was sad for his loss for my children of a loving grandfather but not shocked by the seeming unfairness of it. When our 21 year old nephew died in a drowning accident at work I definitely called "too short" and the same when a co-worker and mother of a young child died and when another two co-workers lost their infant children. The grey area occurred this past summer when my much loved brother in law died suddenly of a heart attack. He was only 51, someone who in every encounter you had with him was full of life and love and it was a giant loss to his whole family. And yet I think if he could give us his feedback he would say it was enough, not that he would want to go but that he lived what he had to the fullest and without huge regrets. I hope for everyone I love that they get to live a full, life well lived without descending into that imbalance that old age often brings or having to depart with large regrets. I also know that there is no balance sheet so I'm crossing my fingers and hoping for the best for us all!!!

    1. Indeed...and thank you for sharing that...

    2. Hi Michelle, it's been a long time. Our lives intersected briefly in Ottawa many years ago. You were in pain, and I was too self absorbed to really see it, and for that I am sorry. Please don't absolve - not why I'm here, although I am glad to have the opportunity to apologize. We're all asshats when we're 25 aren't we? :-).

      What a wonderful blog. I've just stayed up ruinously late reading it. End stage renal failure. Well, shit. (Sadly, I know my GFRs from my creatinine levels - peter's and my son's kidneys failed when he was seven. He is OK now - just turned a spotty and moppet haired 13). I hope that against the odds, you get a similar reprieve, because it's such important work you are doing here, and you're doing it so skillfully and honestly and beautifully Peter send his love xoxo. Shelley

    3. Wow Shelley, how amazing to hear from you. I remember you well and thank you for taking the time to read my rambling thoughts. You were very much a bright light in a dark time and I thank you for that. love to you and Peter and your growing boy!