It was because I read Fixer talking about his father-in-law, I think. His father-in-law who is dying slowly of Alzheimer's, who once was deputy comptroller of New York City and now can't add 2+2.
Reality is that my father's ending was far slower and more hellish. At the end Alzheimer's had reduced him to a shambling mass of twitches and paranoia. The end came when he ran away from the VA nursing home, hitchhiked in the rain to a town several hundred miles away still wearing his pajamas, was taken in by Catholic Services' emergency shelter after the police found him wandering the streets babbling nonsense, and eventually Catholic Services' social worker found out who he was and where he needed to be and returned him to the nursing home, already sick with pneumonia. The reality is that he died a slow miserable death, gasping for breath into a respirator, a husk, a shadow of the man he had once been. He had never been deputy comptroller of New York City. But at one time before his slow cruel decline, he had been a successful small business owner, he had worked multiple jobs to support his family, he had, despite his limitations in other ways, been a for-real man. And the Alzheimer's took that all away from him, and he did not go quietly, he went raging and ranting and violent.
Our society doesn't have anything for that. The violent part is what allowed my mother to get an involuntary commitment order for him to force him into the nursing home, after he smashed windows and attacked a home care nurse and was clearly a threat to himself and others, but that was near the end when he could no longer carry a coherent conversation -- he had been a man who loved to talk, he was non-stop talk all day long in his shop as he talked to his customers, and he couldn't get four or five words out before losing track of his train of thought. But the slide to get there was long and hard and there wasn't anything that our society cared to help us with in dealing with it.
Given the family history, I'm likely to die of "natural causes" too, just like my father and his father before him. At least I won't be dragging a family into that misery with me, though. Just another reason to be a bachelor penguin...
I went to the grocery store this evening, the shabby rundown one that's part of the local chain that's losing to the big guys. It was 10 pm, and the homeless were out in force, doing their morning shopping. There was a toothless lady who looked 70 years old in front of me, buying various small items and paying cash. She put the items into a grubby pink backpack. I noticed that her sandaled feet were muddy too. She reeked of gin and perspiration, and was so drunk she almost fell backwards onto me as she launched herself from the counter. She was probably actually around fifty years old. And I thought, I'm lucky right now. But I've been down. Somehow I managed to get back up and do something else and eventually make it, but there was probably as much luck involved as anything else. But if anything else happens, at my age... would I end up staggering drunk looking twenty years older than my years, staggering out of a grocery store with a few odds and ends shoved into a grubby pink backpack? Soon enough she'll be dead. Of "natural causes". Of hunger, or alcohol poisoning, or whatever, but her death certificate will say "natural causes". And any answer to that would require a humane society that valued all its individuals, where people tried to help one another and did their best to make sure that everybody around them was okay. Some other society, in other words. Not ours. Not ours.
- Badtux the Nightmare Penguin