What I might be like in the future...

August 15, 2005

I was thinking what it’s going to be like when I am old…not so much old, as old and dependent on someone else, if mentally or physically, I became unable to care for myself.

The first thing that struck me was, how my physical appearance would change. Various parts of me– starting with my eyebrows– that I keep pruned/trimmed/depilated, would revert to their normal hairy states. Then, I would not be able to use the few cosmetics I use right now; I would not be able to cut my own finger- and toe-nails, or exercise regularly the way I have been used to for many years now. All this would certainly change my appearance from a reasonably well-groomed woman, to that sad entity, an unkempt pity-evoking “patient”. I would even have to wear clothes that other people selected for me; I could not, or would not, be able to have a say in these things. My usual maintainance routine–moisturising, depilating, pumice-stoning…would no longer be possible,indeed, no care-giver would know exactly what to do, or do it half as well as I could do it myself.

There would be the daily indignity of having no personal privacy for all my daily ablutions, and daily bodily functions. There would be the shame of having to have someone else clean up my messes.

In the event of a mental impairment, I might change as a person too. In the worst-case scenario that I envisioned, I would become a querulous, demanding, child-without-the-loveablity-of-a-child. I would be a burden on my caregivers. I might no longer the peson that I was, just an organism requiring a lot of care.

Just a physical impairment might also make me contentious and irascible, as my mind would chafe at being bound in an unco-operative body. It would be a daily grind for me,as well as those who care for me. In this context alone, I feel that mental impairment of a complete kind might be better for me…I would not be aware of my deterioration at least. Others might pity me but I would not know it..I might even be happy in a vegetable sort of way if my physical needs were met.

I was thinking whether all the regular exercise that I do would somehow prevent a breakdown of health in old age..the answer is a resounding NO. There is no way to ensure that I live with the full use of my faculties and die quickly, without dependency or suffering. In fact, a friend of mine and I were discussing our respective fathers in law…they both suffered strokes and required 24/7 care, but due to their lifestyles, the physical body was very strong and we saw them living as uncaring vegetables for some time. Her father in law, indeed, would cry like a wounded animal (which was what he was) when his festering bed-sores were touched and cleaned.

If there was any way to avoid this….I would most certainly take it. If I knew that I had a progressive or incurable condition, I might take an overdose of sleeping pills…if I had enough by me! But a sudden stroke might reduce me to a vegetable level before I could take any intelligent decisions about my life-span. I might not have dedicated care-givers even if I could afford them.

The Sanksrit sloka that my grandmother used to constantly say goes like this:

Anaayaasena Maranam, Vinaa Dainyena Jeevanam Kripaya Paahi Mam Shambho Sharanaagatha Vathsala

(Oh, Shiva, who loves those who take shelter with Him…Please grant me an effortless death and a life devoid of dependency.)

Will saying this prayer whenever I think of it better my chances of attaining this? I hope so!