Handmaiden of Death

In June, I finished my started projects, cleaned house, and did everything I could think of to enable me to dedicate July to writing my new novel. I wrote for five days, then life, with a mocking laugh, stole my free time.

My elderly father developed prostate complications, and while he was in the hospital, his general practitioner decided to use the opportunity to do other tests. And since my father decided he had the right to refuse any treatment, he declined to sit in a chair or walk down the hall. And so he developed pneumonia, which extended his hospitalization.

He is home now, but mostly bedridden by choice. He can still walk, but both my sister, who came to help out, and I insist that one of us be there because he refuses to use the walker. Not a problem, really. He prefers to stay in bed except when he feels the need to empty his bowels, and so often, that feeling comes from his body sending him the wrong signal or perhaps he is simply misinterpreting what he feels.

During the past few years, I’ve seen way too many people in the final stages of life — a brother, my mother, my life mate/soul mate, and now my father. The first three died of cancer, and my father is simply wasting away from old age, his once strong body slowly shutting down.

To be honest, I find the end of life horrific, both for the dying and the tortures they endure(d), and for me as a bystander and future victim. I know this is the cycle of life — conception, birth, growth, decline, death — but something in me cannot grasp (or accept) the idea of decline.

heavenOne of my favorite end-of-life scenes is from the movie Soylent Green where the sick and dying are taken to beautiful rooms and treated to a visual and musical montage of forests, wild animals, rivers, and ocean life, scenes that had long disappeared from earth because of human overpopulation. And then the sick folks were gone, peacefully and instantly. That seems a much better and more humane way to die than waiting for the body to eat itself with cancer or to begin decaying while the body is still alive. (In Biblical times, executioners would strap a dead man — the “body of death” — on to the one convicted, and as it began to decay it would begin killing the living man . . . by decomposition. So vastly different from a Soylent Green death!)

In our culture, we basically have no recourse but to let the body do what it will. And rightly so, I suppose. Who among us is wise enough to say who is to live and who is to die? I remember another story I once read where the aged mother had told her daughter she didn’t want to live as a vegetable, and if that ever happened, then she wanted her daughter to end her life. One day the mother did end up paralyzed with no means of communication, but she found a quiet joy in her greatly condensed world. And then her daughter killed her. Ouch.

My sister had a rough time with our father last night, and tonight is my turn to be on call. We got a long-range wireless doorbell and gave him the button to push when he wants us. We women move the doorbell from room to room depending on who is to answer his call. It seems strange to be handmaidens of death, but that is the role we have accepted for now.

Despite all this, I’m still hoping to work on my book a little more this month, though exhaustion — for me, anyway — is not exactly conducive to literary endeavors.


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

4 Responses to “Handmaiden of Death”

  1. rami ungar the writer Says:

    I can’t even imagine doing what you do, Pat. Be strong and keep going. You’re in my thoughts.

  2. Malcolm R. Campbell Says:

    Sad days, indeed, hard on everyone.

  3. Judy Says:

    Hi Pat, It’s been a long time. I understand what you are going thru because Mike’s dad was so bad we had to put him in an
    assisted living home, where after nearly 3 yrs. he pasted away in May. I’m amazed you can still handle this. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Judy

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