I envy my father. He grew up in an era where rock and roll was still new, a family could survive on one income, and we let grandparents die while they were still fun. It was a glorious era, where you could go from throwing a ball with your Granddaddy behind a church, to burying your Granddaddy behind that same church a week later. And after each there was a nice chicken dinner. It was awesome.
Death still hurt, but for most people it came suddenly. It was a surprise that left you only with the memories of a person’s life, and their sudden exit.
Now science has removed the sudden peacefulness of death, and we can prolong life until it no longer resembles life. Personally life has always been about quality, not quantity, but thanks to the miracle of science mortality is now a hot dog eating contest. Get as much as you can, dignity be damned.
I learned my Granddaddy had Parkinson’s when I was still in grade school. For a long time it meant he shook sometimes, was a little slow, and sometimes he would space out. He used to fall asleep all the time while watching TV, and when someone would wake him he’d refuse to admit to it .
My Granddaddy was a great man. He was smart, spiritual, and responsible. When one of his grandchildren went out for a job interview he told them to never go without wearing a watch, so they would know you knew the value of time.
Once he was fired from an accounting job because he refused to falsify documents. To make ends meet he started selling insurance door to door. One day he came home from work and my Mema asked him how his sales day had gone. It turned out that he’d met a family that day where the husband had just lost his job and couldn’t afford to pay their bills, let alone buy insurance. My Granddaddy gave the man all the money in his wallet. It hurt him to see other people hurt.
He was the kind of man who wore a suit six days a week because he wanted to look nice, but still would run shouting out the front door with a BB Gun when his arch nemesis, the Woodpecker, started knocking on his roof. In that order, though when he would unleash his famous “dessert smile” we sometimes wondered.
By 2004 he was starting to fall down a lot, and was having problems with planning, remembering things, and even expressing his ideas. He had an experimental surgery to put an implant in his brain that would help with his symptoms.
I told him I was worried about the surgery. He told me “I get to live a Star Trek episode.” Being a nerd runs in our family.
Sadly, the surgery didn’t have the results we wanted, and it weakened him without any real improvement. By Spring of 2005 he had to move into a nursing home. At first I visited regularly.
We’d watch TV and listen to books on tape and talk. His room was nice because his Medicare would pay for a nice room, for a period of time. Until his Medicare stopped paying for the good hall and he was moved to another wing of the nursing home.
Even nursing homes have a “wrong side of the tracks” and that’s where he landed. A place where roaming bands of little old ladies in wheelchairs sneak into your room under the cover of nap time to steal your hoodies or Wurthers Originals. Where every pair of socks as a name on it, and people who can’t eat are fed “Thick nectar”, because “Soylent Green” was copyrighted.