This past week, the last of my grandparents passed away. But to me, my grandfather died several years ago.
A vibrant man who taught me the art of telling a story, a man who knew the value of good friends, a man who had such a quick wit, was reduced to having a brain of mush due to the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. It was a tragedy for somebody who I considered as having the best sense of humor and personality to be left with neither in his final years.
I didn’t watch him die because I watched him live. If there was ever a time to forgo a funeral for a celebratory service, this would be it. Mourning has long since passed. My memories of Joe Cost will be of him holding court on the golf course or telling jokes by the Christmas tree, by the Thanksgiving turkey and by the Easter ham. They will be of him sharing laughs with his friends Leo, Dominic, John and Tommy.
Those memories were not tainted by his fading health. That burden fell to my parents, and I thank them for not urging me to visit the shell of the man he became. I probably should feel remorse for not visiting, but I don’t. When the mind is gone, you are left with flesh and bones and little else. That is the devastating horror of Alzheimer’s.
Our brains are what separates us from most of the animal kingdom. My grandmother spent her final years in a nursing home, and as her body broke down, her mind remained sharp. I believe there is a huge difference in the way we should approach mind over body.
I am very much in favor of assisted suicide for those with dementia. Before you start jumping down my throat, it already happens. When Alzheimer’s patients enter a ward, their bodies are often still vibrant. Able of body, they want to explore and wander. Nursing homes don’t like that, so they medicate them to the point where they sit or lie in a stupor. The inactivity eventually breaks their bodies down and they start the slide toward death. We cringe at assisted suicide, but what happens to some patients is almost like murder. Why not ease their pain and let them go sooner?
We don’t keep Alzheimer’s patience living for themselves; after all, they aren’t ever going to regain their faculties. We keep them living for us. I’ve had people tell me we shouldn’t hinder God. Well, God already started the process, so it seems more like helping than hindering. We have no problem putting a pet down when it’s suffering.
If I lose my mind, send me to the afterlife. If you don’t do it for me, do it for yourself, so your memories can remain intact.