I’m going to share a story with you. It is based in truth but I’ve changed facts so that you get the idea only of how this stuff works without telling you about the real person.
This is how things work, or don’t work. And the resulting torment. For anyone who cares.
I investigate allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation of the elderly. And people, let me tell you, there is a hell of a lot of that going on.
Imagine a 99 year old man. Living in his house. Alone. That he has lived in for over fifty years. Fifty years of it alone because his wife died young.
To this point in time he has never moved. Choosing to stay where he is for whatever reason. Even though the house that is his armor and shield is wearing thin and doing little to keep him protected. It has piled up with the things he can no longer bare to do away with. The dirt is increasing because he can no longer keep up with it. Or, he has always lived with it because it didn’t ever matter to him.
Anyone he knows has either died. Or they are as elderly as he is and can’t get to him any more than he can get to them.
His home is where he wants to be. And it’s all he wants.
He eats. When he feels like it. Which doesn’t appear to be often enough.
He is dressed. But in the same clothes he has been wearing for possibly a year.
His hair is matted. And you can see “stuff” in his hair, on his scalp.
He doesn’t smell very good.
He doesn’t go to a doctor. He knows a doctor will make him change.
When people talk to him he can “hold his own” and refuse their offers of help.
Help is offered. Because this world is full of kind and decent people. People are willing to help, if only they knew how, and if only he agreed with them that he needed help.
He wants nothing from you. Nothing but to be where he is.
He is 99.
What do we do?
We do nothing. And he stays there. Dirty. Alone. And he will die. He will die where he wants to die. He will exist and die in the one place that he found safety and comfort in this world. Dirty. Unkempt. Alone. For whatever reason. He stayed when he was able to make other choices and act on them. He stayed as he aged but was still able to make changes. He stayed there alone, by choice, for what he believes to be forever.
We do something. Steps are taken to make him do something he doesn’t want to do. He will be cleaned to make others feel better. He will be spoken to kindly. He will have something fresh to eat every day. He will die. Removed from the one place he could never make himself leave. He will die, surrounded by strangers, in a place he never wanted to be.
How do you value a person’s wishes when those wishes leave him alone, unkempt, dirty and uncared for.
Is my value of wanting him clean, safe, well fed, ministered to by caring (even if paid) hands who will make sure he is how we want him to be, more important than the value he places on where he is.
Is my value of how I think he should live, more important or dare I say-right-than his value of staying where he is.
His value: independence/home/his choices/his way/however he can manage alone.
The other value: dependence/institution/not his choices/not his way/clean-fed-medicines-socialization.
Either way, he will die soon, it is the way for us all. No one can stop that.
But in what manner.
If you must decide: do nothing or do something.
How do you choose for him to die?