A friend remarked in an email that I seem to have aging figured out — an affirmation that I welcome and appreciate, although I suspect I often look much more confident and coherent than I actually feel. Her comment moved me to wonder how stable what we have figured out is, in the long run. I’m prompted to wonder that because of Minga.
Minga’s kidneys have been failing for several years, and she knew long ago that at a point she’d be told she needed dialysis. She and I had several brutally honest conversations about what she would do in that moment. She said very clearly that she did not want dialysis, did not want to spend time in Panama City getting it, did not fear death, and that she felt at peace knowing her mother and the Virgin Mary would be there to greet her at the moment she died. She had it all figured out, one might say.
Then death moved into her home, into her bed, and surrounded her with its cold arms. She was, she said, very fearful. She wanted to go to the hospital. She wanted help, even if that help meant dialysis. She is willing, now, to spend most of her time at her daughter Ita’s house in the city order to have that 10pm dialysis slot in an urban ambulatory treatment center.
I think we all get to change our minds about anything at any point — that isn’t what causes me to ponder. What I’m wondering is whether we can ever truly anticipate something as momentous as death, and formulate stable plans. Drafting health care directives assumes we can. Minga’s experience suggests we can’t, or that it’s unlikely.
I’d welcome your thoughts.