Saturday, February 16, 2008

Indignity of Persistence - Part II

I'm not trying to overwhelm you with negativity, but recent events made a "part 2" almost a necessity.

Indignities Defined
First, I'd like to explain what I meant by "Indignity of Persistence." I think there are often a lot of similarities between infants and the elderly. In many cases, both are bald or balding, incomprehensible, toothless, need constant care to survive, and have trouble managing their excretory imperatives.

Among the difference between them is the fact that babies have no sense of dignity. This is why we can them up in cute little costumes and laugh hysterically when they do really silly things. We interpret the things they do as signs of who and how htey will be, but their overall future identities aren't strongly defined by how much they drool, crawl backwards, or babble. They have no concept of embarrassment and would probably have no time for it if they did - there's too much drooling, crawling, and babbling to get done.

Elderly adults, on the other hand, have already established a sense of self and broadcast an identity to those around them. Dignity and pride are usually well-established and deeply-ingrained. Wetting themselves, cursing out loved-ones for no reason, and forgetting who and where they are, can encroach on that dignity - especially for Alzheimer's patients.

Getting sick is a part of life. Surviving it is seen as a triumph. But advanced stages of Alzheimer's Disease can be seen like flipping the identity switch. And, even if the patient him- or herself has already lost or forgotten what it was to be embarrassed by soiling oneself or forgetfulness, their loved-ones still remember. Living in Alzheimer's can be seen, by one's loved ones, as an indignity upon the patient and, I'd imagine, many of them feel that death would be a far more merciful fate the persistence of life.

My Own Crazy
There have been a number of events, over the years, that have left me very concerned about the chances that I'll be (or that I am) facing my own flavors of crazy. Diagnosed mental illness in blood relatives, my own interaction with other human-beings, and undiagnosed, but somewhat apparent, mental and emotional issues that plague my father's life.

I've not researched the topic in some times, but I think one can be genetically predisposed to developing Alzheimer's. So my family history concerns me. There are Alzheimer's sufferers on both sides of my family, but the only ones related by blood are on the paternal side.

I watch and listen to them, wondering if the different varieties and flavors o' crazy are the diluted version of whatever their parents had. I smell a little blueberry crazy over here - maybe some obsessive-compulsive tendencies. There's some crunchy pistachio over in the form of anger management issues. Lime-flavored crazy tastes a lot like persistent paranoia.

I don't now which flavor I'll end up with, if any, or whether I'll "luck out" and get a triple-scoop - the terrible trifecta. I look back and see a far-reaching path of burned bridges and I wonder how many were lit by own tendency to flame versus those that sparked from other people's hot heads.

My saving grace, right now, is the fact that there are still SOME positive elements left in my life and that those who think the most of me are the people I respect the most. The rest are often those whose traits are... less than enviable. Still, it's not like I can honestly say all people who dislike me are bad. I've raged against quite a few machines and I don't know that I was always right - even in how I went about expressing it.

What I don't want is to find out, decades from now, that I've been wearing my pop's brand of people repellent and that the failed relationships in my life aren't just due to natural selection, but are in fact due to my bull-headedness, stupidity, or assholery. My own crazy.

Persistent Ends
Just last night, I got a call from my aunt, C. She said that my paternal grandmother, who suffers from Alzheimer's, began having seizures and other strange symptoms. They took her to the hospital for tests, but she seemed mostly okay except for having trouble breathing.

While they were trying to make it easier for her to breathe, she apparently had a massive stroke - a fatal one. She died some time yesterday afternoon.

This the second Alzheimer's sufferer in my family to die in as many weeks.

I didn't have a relationship with my paternal grandparents for most of my life. When my grandfather passed a couple of years, ago, I wasn't sure how to feel. Now that my grandmother has died, it was a similar experience - although she always seemed to be a sweeter person, to me, anyway.

In her later years, she'd reached the point where she didn't know who some of her children and grandchildren were. She'd be introduced to me, think I was my father (since we have the same name), have it explained to her, embrace me, then forget me and start the whole thing all over, again.

So, I have a fondness for her, but there was no relationship to be had over the past few years. Despite that, I think I was on the edge of SOME kind of emotional reaction, but I never go the chance for that to fully develop. I was too busy trying to contact my father, who wouldn't return anyone's calls, to give him the news that his mother had died... then trying to get him to stop yelling at me because of his frustrations with... damn-near the entire world. This post is long enough with getting into the multiple layers of erraticism my dad displayed in that 25-minute phone call. At least I can say that he apologized for taking his frustrations with the rest of his family out on me. He even said I'm a very good son, which touched my heart, despite the seething anger I was suppressing, at that moment.

"I figured it was going to go down like that. I knew she was gon' die. Y'all didn't have to tell me that! I ain't stupid!"

I had to (ironically) yell, "Stop yelling at me! This is not an indictment of you or your intellect. We're not calling you stupid. We just thought you should know that your mother died!"

That's just a taste.

Anyway, by the time I got off the phone, I was a wreck... for a few reasons. I'm feeling bad for my family members who were closer to my grandmother, dealing with my own, undefined feelings about her passing, pissed-off at my father for yelling at me while repeating the same things over and over and over, again, and afraid that my grandmother's fate and my father's future might be my own.

And if it is, I may never know... but the people around me will.


Angie said...

My family has an extesive history on both sides. Some diagnosed and some not.I have major depression, which was diagnosed when I was in my early thirties. In hindsight I realize I'd been suffering with depression since I was a very small child.

I take my medication religously (now, I didn't always take it a few years ago - but I got my mind right, lol) and I see a therapist regularly.But, here's the thing I sometimes worry about my daughter inheriting depression. Even though I know there are worse things that could happen to her, and that depression and most other mental illness can be controled with meds and therapy - as a parent I don't want her to suffer or have the major set bacs that I have dealt with.

So, I kind of understand your thinking and your concern. West, at the end of the day you can only do your best to have the best, most fruitful life possible - by any means necessary. If diabetes ran in your family you would keep a watchful eye out for the symptoms. You would change your diet, exercise etc. And you could also take solace in knowing there are effective medicine regimens that help to control diabetes. Depression and most mental ilnesses are not a whole lot different.

You are a smart capable fellow, youll be just fine, however the cut goes. Live your life.

Sorry about the long comment. : )

West said...

No, no. THANK YOU, for the long comment, Angie.

Alan Scott said...

Hey, West. I agree with Angie when she says that you at least have a 'heads-up' and can do your best to have a most fulfilling life.
My deepest sympathies on the loss of your grandmother. Even though you weren't close, it is never easy to lose a grandparent. My own grandmother passed back in October. She and I were very close until she developed a form of dementia about 2 years ago and then she didn't know who I was anymore. Except during a few very rare instances of lucidity.
Your father is reacting to his mother's death, and we all handle grief in our own different ways.

God bless you,