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Tuesday 19 August 2003

Waiting for God, it really is the pits. [brit]

Not what you might call a happy blog this one, but nonetheless.
I got a phonecall from my mum this morning, the normal conversational openers replaced simply by her letting out as much emotion as she would allow herself over the phone. Why? because my grandfather is very ill; to the point where the doctors in their wisdom have put a big red mark on the calendar and told the family not to expect him to live past it.
Christmas 2003 will almost certainly be -1 grandparent and +lots of not-so-comfortable silence.
Put simply, at the age of 89, his body is shutting down, powering off, going into permanent standby. His latest blood pressure is 50/90 - which as any medically trained person will tell you is dangerously low. Life threateningly so. As the blood pressure continues to drop (and interestingly, did you know there is no known medical way of raising blood pressure?) his brain will shut down, followed by his heart.
The effects are already present, and marked; ongoing hallucinations and progressive (and rapid) memory loss, severely impaired motor control (and all that entails) and without putting too fine a point on it; speech is rapidly turning into repetitive gibberish. These effects - which affect not only he, but the family as a whole, have rushed into view; two months ago he was still talking and drinking his favourite whiskey and ginger ale...
It's sad, very sad, and demonstrates how cruel life can be; for a man who has been self sufficient for the last 70 years or so, in his final days he is stripped of the one thing he has held onto regardless; his dignity. The man who sunk 4 U-Boats, commanded various ships, hundreds of men, and travelled the world as a Captain in the American Navy has been reduced to a shell; a man who is quite simply waiting for the end.
And frankly, that fucking sucks.
I've often wondered how I'll end up; the big 'C' is fairly prevalent in our family (on the Dad's side) - so chances are I'll probably get to mid 70s and my lungs/colon/bowels/whatever will explode in some malevolent cancerous fusion.. but I do know one thing, I really don't want to end up sitting in a chair, unable to remember the names of my grandchildren (metaphorical, most likely), and unable to even change TV channel.. if this is what they call Waiting For God, then frankly, they can bloody well keep it.


  1. Sorry to hear of that Brit. It's never nice. Fortunately though, this isn't the only way one pops ones clogs, so's to speak. My grandfather was quite spritely right into his 90s and then shuffled off his mortal coil while pushing a wheely bin out onto the road. We all hope for a rapid demise, personally I intend to be ball deep at the time :-)

  2. My thoughts are with you. On my mothers side, my grandfather was still riding an exercise bike when he had a minor stroke... recovered fine but then died suddenly 5 weeks later. Sadly, my grandmother since then has gone downhill over 8 years - and for the last 3/4 of them really doesn't want to be here with us - yet she keeps exceeding the doctors expectations, year after year.
    It's a strange and horrible way to go, and you're right... it's not a way I want leave... nor see anyone else that way.

  3. I've lost two of my grandparents in the past few years (careless, I know), and in the case of my grandfather I felt very much the same as you do; here was a man who had spent his life actively and with great pride, with distinguished military and civilian police careers behind him, being utterly robbed of all dignity by the complete failure of his mental capacity.
    I'm not sure that death itself is a sad thing when it's an old person; I know a lot of people can't deal with death in any context, but I think when someone has had a good innings and a good life, and it's time to move on, it's better to do that than to linger. But the ravages of old age turning a man who spent WW2 living off his wits behind enemy lines into a helpless case who can't go to the toilet on his own... Now that is a shockingly sad thing to see.
    I knew a man who at the age of 73 had a massive heart attack, and despite a bypass operation was told that his standard of life would continue to decline until he died, but that he had possibly a decade left. He upped stakes, sold his house and his car, and went off travelling the world - climbing mountains, scuba-diving, all the things he hadn't done before and which his doctors said he shouldn't do now. He had five years worth of cash, he reckoned; he died after four, in a diving accident off Madagascar.
    That, as far as I'm concerned, is the way to do it. I only hope that whatever finally does away with me gives me a warning like that, so that I can follow in his footsteps and avoid the fate of the armchair in the old folks home, the drooling, the tubes, and the endless repeats of Judge Judy.

  4. That really sucks. I was at home for a funeral not so long ago myself. My mothers partner died. He was on the verge of retirement, having worked his ass off all his life, and had a fine pension. One morning at home, he was walking down the stairs and slipped and fell. So fell down my stairs and broke his neck. Dead on the spot. What an utter nightmare. I fucking hate funerals, but thats another story, for another day.

  5. Shinji wrote: 'He upped stakes, sold his house and his car, and went off travelling the world - climbing mountains, scuba-diving, all the things he hadn't done before'
    My advice is start now (within reason). I'm 46. Ten minutes ago I was 36 and 15 minutes before that 26. You know that kind of sinking feeling you get when you suddenly look at your watch and realise you had forgotten to go to the shop to buy something and its now 5.25 and you aren't going to make it? Well thats what you are going to get when you are laying on that death bed - big time!
    And one other thing - while you are on that death bed pondering on whether your life was worthwhile - all there is is what you remember - if you cant remember it it didnt happen. (I'm assuming that hopefully we still have our mental marbles at this point btw).How long are you going to remember a day in the office? But diving on the Great Barrier Reef, having sex in an aircraft toilet or indeed, coming to my LAN party you will remember for ever!
    p.s I've had to sit with my grandad and my dad while they died :( I know what I'm talking about here!

  6. The manner of someone's passing tells you nothing about that person(unless perhaps dignity in face of serious illness) and regardless, themanner of passing comes at the bottom of a very long list of items thatmake up a whole life in my book. While to see these things at the timeis dreadful, it is the totality of a life that will be remembered byothers - all the achievements, kindness, good humour - the wholeshebang. To wind up at 89 with the machine failing on you is nodisgrace at all - in fact it is a hell of a victory - to take on life,spank it to the full and fill it with achievements and times ofenjoyment and closeness with friends and family. Perhaps at the veryend the memory is not there for half of a percent of a lifetime. But99 and half percent was there where it remains inviolate andunextinguishable until the last who remembers him is gone too. Youdon't go to the cinema to watch the credits - you go for the film -frankly if I get to 89 only for the machine to go down then bring it onI say because that sounds like a pretty good and full life to me. Thebigger challenge is making the stuff that happens before then worthwhileand memorable myself.