A DIGNIFIED EXIT
A close friend of mine had to say this on facebook “I have been following news reports closely and observe that moral degeneration has slipped to moral depravity. Be it midday meal, health services, civic services, sheer callousness is evident. Values of children have changed materialistic. Can some philosopher like GS course through his beard and get some answers? I am presently nursing my mom in ICU with a fracture, but isn’t it true that when we grow old and helpless, a nightmare awaits us? How to manage our lives to ensure a dignified exit? Life's full of questions but no answers.” Though I did course through my beard while sitting down to write this, he (my beard) was a silent spectator for these were serious issues and he allowed me the comfort of his presence. My friend called me a philosopher (he says like GS, which I guess was me, after all my conversations with my beard) and in a sense all of us are the minute we start meditating on our ultimate end (Plato says ‘Philosophy is a meditation on death’)
I could understand my friend’s agony at seeing a near and dear one suffer especially when they become old and do not have the strength to carry on alone. This is a reality we have to accept. It happens to everyone and it will happen to us. It is true when he says that moral degeneration has slipped to moral depravity, but that is the viewpoint of a generation that is now in the throes of approaching old age. Each generation is a transition point when attitudes and lifestyles change. What was true for the generation before us though valid even now, would have undergone a dilution in the values which had been held sacred by them. The basic values of goodness and badness will always remain true. We know what hurts us and what hurts others. These can never change and that is what is to be taken care off
When we do a reality check to find out where we are heading to, we see a splintered society, a society where the interests of the individual is getting totally centred around himself to such an extent that nothing else matters. We also feel we are the last of a generation which held human values like compassion, empathy and duty especially towards our parents of prime importance. It was possible, for the world was much smaller and distances between people were smaller, conducive to a close knit society and relationships that mattered. We know that we have or a majority of us have taken care of our parents.
This is no longer true, for our children have moved away in search of opportunities elsewhere wherever they exist. They are not to blame for we have taught them independence, an independence that we know would be necessary for their survival when they take over from us. If anyone is to be blamed for the shift towards materialism it is us. With growing opportunities and competition we have pushed them into that vortex of comparative performances and may be we did the right thing, we could not have done otherwise for which parent would not wish that his child wins. The question is at what cost. We will not be here to see how they face up to their old age, but I can imagine that they will be better prepared to handle it alone.
When I was in the
last year I saw very old people,
shopping on their own in Walmart or manning the cash counters and earning their
livelihood. They would politely refuse any help offered to them. These were
people who have learned to live on their own and with dignity. Well that is the
society there, where the children move away as soon as they are eighteen years
of age to make their own life. It is possible in a country like the US with their
prevailing culture, welfare measures and an enlightened population, though they
are also not free from different kinds of degradation and depravity. Though we
seem to be shifting towards such an eventuality keeping pace with our economic
growth, our stifling population and poverty is bound to create a traumatic
makeover to the next generation. Moral degradation and depravity is I guess is
a fall out of this shift. Ours and our previous generations I believe have had
their share of such fallouts. No generation is an ideal generation. US
“Isn’t it true that as we grow old and helpless, a nightmare awaits us? How do we manage our lives to ensure a dignified exit?” this is a question that haunts us whenever we see our parents or other old people suffering from dementia and other physical ailments, unable to look after themselves. Lucky are those who have the affections of their close ones and the necessary resources to sustain themselves. In this connection I am reminded of my visit to an old age home in my locality.
The old age home run by a public charitable trust gives shelter to orphans and aged destitutes. The one I and my wife visited was for old people who had been abandoned or nowhere else to go. There were nearly fifty inmates both men and women and as we walked around they sat up on their beds and greeted us with folded hands and I noticed a slight trace of happiness in their eyes at seeing us. Obviously they do not get many visitors or someone they can call their own coming to visit them. They had a roof over their heads and food for their sustenance and nothing else. I was stifled by the atmosphere in there, it was as if each one of them was just waiting to fade away. This was no old age home, the kind that have been coming up to accommodate the elderly who were otherwise reasonably well off and could pay for their sustenance. These were people who had nothing to look forward to and who had nothing which they could call their possession. In short these were people who had no hope. One could see it in their eyes, an air of resignation and one could call them the living dead. The pamphlet that was given to me by the administrator said that one could make donations under various schemes and what immediately struck me was the scheme for funeral expenses. The reality of it all struck me, these were people who had come here to die. Better here then on a pavement where they would have been bundled of in a corporation van and disposed off like garbage. I realised that the Trust was doing an immense service to humanity and to these people in particular by allowing them dignity in death.
As to a dignified exit one should ask oneself as to what he feels is a dignified exit, whether it is by a way of leaving behind a legacy, an everlasting contribution or an exit without suffering. While the first is in our hands, the second is beyond us. While God and religion are sources of hope for many, the angst of the individual on the nightmares that await him as he grows old is real. There are no real answers.
It is because that life is full of questions that we live, the day we find all the answers then we will cease to be.