On Aging, What Value is the Alzheimer’s Patient, Part 2

From last post…So, I asked myself this morning, what value is a life when you have nothing left to give to anyone and you can’t even remember your own name nor your closest family, and you sit all day, diapered, medicated, breathing but not really living?  Not that I see myself there, but it is the furthest example of what I am talking about a to purpose.

Talk about an existential dilemma.


“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” Pablo Picasso

This is how I have viewed life purpose for some years now.  I have defined my gifts differently at different points in my life, but I have always believed I needed to in some way make the world a better place, for my life to have counted for something good for someone or many someones.

A few days back, I also wrote about purpose and aging, and after I had published my post and re-read it, I realized that what I was really talking about is whether it mattered to anyone that I was alive.   I have asked myself all too often,

“I wonder if anyone will come to my memorial service?”  “Will I be Eleanor Rigby?”   “Does Eleanor Rigby have value?”

The song has always profoundly moved me, and not in a pleasant way.  It does speak poignantly to the issue at hand, and it scares me. Now I think I see the real bogeyman – will anyone care that I am alive if I can no longer offer/produce anything of value to them?  And the spiritual question of the purpose of human life.

For some years, when I was active with many things, and lots of people told me they admired me or even loved me (believe me, it was not my looks), I always wondered if my sons would come to Arizona to the memorial service and come away wishing they had spent more time with me, because they would discover I had actually been an interesting person.  Now, I believe they would come, but would anyone else?  Who would still know me if I live another 30 years?  There are several ladies over 100 years old at the communities we visit, and I am pretty healthy, that could be me.  Some are even quite “with it,”  hum along or sing along to the music.

Pardon me while I look life and death square in the face.

b.r.e.a.t.h.e.  Gerry.  b.r.e.a.t.h.e.  and s.m.i.l.e.   s.m.i.l.e.  r.e.l.a.x.  

I got this technique from the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, and have incorporated it into my practice when I am disturbed.  It reminds me that I am connected to so much more than this m0rtal body sitting here thinking life through with my fingertips.

I notice in my title the person had become a patient, and that I have placed my imaginary 10 year-old self in a retirement community.  I gave them both a role, and other people.  How enlightening.   My deep fear must be of living my late years alone and isolated, just tending my veggies and sitting in the sun.  Thank God for writing.  I hope I still can.

I believe that we choose heaven or hell each day we are on the planet – not the heaven or hell of a hereafter, but the heaven or hell of life here and now.  For me, the keys to those choices lie in my ability  to choose how I shall think about a matter, what values I choose to apply to the situation, how and if I  choose to see  life through an open heart.

Many years ago, and for many years, I was stuck in the thralls of deep clinical depression.  I learned to reframe situations that upset me.  To b.r.e.a.t.h.e. before I react. I choose gratitude and optimism and a letting go of emotional attachment to things (and people) over whom I have no control – that includes most everything except  my own chosen attitudes and actions.  It is a long story, and the tools are deeper than those few words, but a story for another day.  It took me many years to find joy in life, and to love myself despite my many shortcomings.  I look to the Presence of the Most High within my heart as my touchstone and my spiritual practices allow me to feel that Presence every day, at will.  And I can choose to radiate that Presence into a hurting world, which I gladly do.

I mention those things because it gets to the core of my question about aging.  If I can still be me until I die, I will be a happy woman.  But I decided I must ask someone who works in an Alzheimers unit every day what the inner spiritual and emotional  experience is with dementia.  But beyond that, the existential question is,

Do we have value just because we draw breath?

I don’t have an answer this morning.   What is yours?


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