By Stan Stewart
I have noticed that many conversations with seniors focussed on health matters - doctor’s appointments, waiting for specialists to get back to them, health in general, aches and pains. At times I was amused, many times bored, and sometimes annoyed. “Is that the sum total of their life?” Recently, I noticed some friends were losing interest in my conversation. Thinking back, I realise that I had been taking about doctors, specialists, medical examinations etc. Whoops!
Old age is encroaching. Staying alive is a priority. Now the docs and specialists have moved from my peripheral vision to front and centre of my attention. A few individuals do the opposite. Doctors and health procedures may dominate them, but there is no way they will let on to those around them. They opt for disguise and keeping up appearances.
I have been reading about JFK’s President Kennedy’s assassination in November, 1963. I knew he had health problems but not the extent of them. These days, sixty years after his death, the whole story is coming out. For instance, he had to wear a stiff, unbending back brace to keep him upright. He was wearing this brace when he was assassinated. Dr Kenneth Salyer, who was with JFK directly after he was shot, told CBS news that Kennedy’s back brace kept him erect after Lee Oswald’s first shot hit him in the shoulder. He was immobile and this allowed Oswald to take the second shot which hit Kennedy in the head, killing him.
Some people I have known wear their health problems like a badge of honour. One couple we knew competed as to who was the sickest, who was in the most pain, who was taking the most pills etc. I don’t know if they realised what they were doing, but certainly everyone around them, family and friends, could see what was happening. It was rather like a race to the bottom. It went on for years and when at last one of them died, I thought the other was peeved… Maybe I imagined it, but I was not the only one who thought like this.
In my previous life, as a Presbyterian Minister, I was often with sick and suffering individuals, in hospital and in their homes. On a few occasions, I was asked by a suffering person to pray that God would - in their words - “Take them home tonight” or something like that. The idea was that their life would be ended by divine intervention in the next few hours. I never prayed this prayer. For one thing, I never believed in a God that switched life on and off like that. Another personal restraint was my feeling that this suffering may pass. ‘While there’s life, there’s hope’ was my philosophy.
I remember one lady who lived on an isolated farm who asked me to pray the ‘God end my life tonight’ prayer. When it was clear that I would not pray this prayer, this very sick, weak lady was greatly disappointed with me. On a winter’s day about a year later I passed the farm and saw smoke coming from the chimney. I knocked on the door thinking I would have to extend sympathy to the woman’s husband, but her husband opened the door and invited me in. There in the lounge room was the lady who pleaded with me that her life should end. She was sitting by the fire bright as a button. She had been playing cards with her husband. That woman lived for another two years. Her husband told me the last three years were the best years of their marriage.
In fact I think ‘life’ is the drug we all need. By that I mean relationships and the opportunity to relate to someone or something of worth. I am saying this to myself as well as to anyone who reads this. I’ve been by the beds of many dying people. A few of these stick out in my mind. One ancient lady had shrunk to the size of a child. However, her tiny body was full of power to the end. We went to visit to comfort her. In fact she comforted and encouraged all who visited her. She healed us. Way to go!