When life goes on too long

Nana is 98 years old. She’s a widower, a mother to four (but has lost two of them), a grandmother to 11, great grandmother to 19 and a great-great grandmother to four…at last count. She is the matriarch of a big and beautiful family all of whom cherish an abundance of fond memories. But her life is over.

She lies almost motionless on the bed at her aged care centre. It is a beautiful centre in lush tropic surrounds, but may as well be a cold, clinical, sterile room, as she doesn’t really know where she is. Her body, which gave up on her a while ago, and the mind a little more recently, have shut down and are lying in a state of waiting…waiting for the end to come.

As a grandson it’s a confronting scene. It’s not how I want to remember her, yet you still feel compelled to visit. Some of my earliest and most cherished memories are of time spent with her in the garden, tending to (or possibly running through) her almost surreal assortment of flowers, or baking with her (let’s be honest – devouring the fruits of her baking) in the kitchen. Her glamorous white short set curls were a permanent fixture upon her head. And her smile…well, it was as infectious as her laugh was contagious.

But now as I visit her, again disappointed that I’ve arrived while she was sleeping, I look lovingly, but also despairingly, upon a woman who is almost unrecognisable to the Nana I grew up with. It’s hard, really hard, to see someone who was so full of life and colour brought to a slow, almost lifeless end.

Even if she had been awake, she most likely would not have recognised who I was. She would have called me by any one of the grandson’s names, possibly even one of her sons, as she seems to do more so today. I would not have corrected her, instead continued to talk about the grandkids, which she seems to have less trouble remembering. Talk of them bring traces of that famous smile and provide a little more colour to her face.

Ad. Article continues below.

Otherwise, she is ready. So too is the rest of the family. Her life is complete but something keeps her here on God’s green earth. You feel tremendous guilt for inviting the end, but you find relief in knowing that she’s searching for it too.

One of my daughters asks, ‘will she make it to 100 Dad, so she gets a letter from the Queen?’ I tell her that we hope she doesn’t, and try to explain why we said that, sensing her confusion…shock even.

To me, it’s no more or less the same than losing someone prematurely or unexpectedly. It’s unfair. They’re hanging on, willingly or not, for a life that has come to its natural conclusion. We’ve enjoyed her company, we’ve got more memories than our minds can actively recall. She has no quality of life left and won’t benefit from another day.

We pray for her relief and release from this world and wish her well for the next life. Until then we try to replace the picture of the woman before us, with images of a happy healthy woman from days that have long since passed.

Share with us your thoughts and feelings. How have you dealt with a loved one who clings to life but there’s no quality of it?