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Time Marches On For Everyone

Recently, thanks to a good buddy who helped with the driving, I took a road-trip to Chicago and the Midwest to see two old friends. Both are experiencing what could be life-ending health issues.

It was a reminder that “time marches on,” and that there is nothing you can do about getting old. It was also an energizing trip in that life-long friendships never get old.

Both of these men were educated in theology. One I met while in seminary, and he had a remarkable 40-year career in the Christian ministry. Both have counseled many over the years on the issues facing those nearing the end of their lives. Now they are living it.

The experience caused me again to pick up the book “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande which I keep on the reading table next to my bed. There is a lot of good reading in that book.

I told my doctor once that this book should be mandatory reading for everyone reaching retirement age. It puts a lot of things in perspective. The underlying message is that aging is inexorable and irreversible. We can deal with it or not. We can affirm or deny it. We can ignore it… but it is not going to go away.

The one thing that we cannot really control is how we will die. I remember my Mom always saying that she wanted to die quickly without a lot of drawn out pain and anxiety. Her prayers were answered. During a hospital stay for heart-related issues, one night after a walk with an aide, she toppled into bed and was gone. On the other hand, my Dad died a prolonged death from cancer, sort of wilting away a day at a time until the end of his life.

Maybe what the elderly fear most is not being in control. For all of their adult lives, they were working jobs and running households. They were “in charge.” Now, they are subject to events beyond their control. In the case of my friend in Chicago, he seemed most concerned about the ill-health of his wife. She has her own problems with dementia and needs lots of care. Yet, with his own declining physical condition, he is not able to provide it and must depend upon others.

In most cases, doctors are at the forefront in all of this. My own doctor has been seeing me for over 30 years and has been spectacularly successful in keeping this “old used car” running. Yet, he has also been there when there have been bumps in the road. He has seen hundreds of patients over the years move through their life cycle. He will be there at the end doing whatever he can to provide good health care to his patients. This is what doctors do.

If there is a gold star award in heaven, it should go to those in the medical community who dedicate themselves to lifetime patient care.

There is, of course, a spiritual and emotional dimension through all of this. Faith, friendship and the love of family are most important as one reaches the end.

These two friends I visited had a great, positive impact on my life. I felt a need to visit them at this time in their lives. I hope that the visit was as meaningful to them as it was to me.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.

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