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@loripalminteriTweets by @loripalminteri
The Death’s, Three
Of course, as a loose rule, they say comedy comes in 3’s. And 3 can be a damned number for someone with OCD tendencies. But in that case it has nothing to do with the 3 at all. Furthermore, I’ve long heard it said that death comes in 3’s. The notion freaked me out as a kid. Once I heard of someone’s passing, I’d start worrying about who the other people would be. Just not my family, I remember thinking. Selfish, sure, but they’re my family. I love them.
But that’s not what I’m going to write about.
That’s not what I’m referring to.
Allow me to explain.
Revisit this notion. A teenager gets a job as a dietary aide in a nursing home. It’s a good job. She’s happy to get it. Good money. So close to home she can commute there on bike.
It’s obviously strange at first. And tough. Because it’s disgusting. Not just how old people eat (which is so gross), and no, not just watching how quickly a human can deteriorate when put in an institution— how quickly a human breaks in an environment that they know will be their last. It’s how we treat them. And how we take their money. And how we draw out their pain so we can take their money.
This is evil. I remember thinking one day, standing below a statue of the Virgin Mary in what was a self proclaimed Catholic Health Services, the halls patrolled by priests who’s smiles never seemed genuine. This is evil, I thought. This place is evil. We’re pretending that it’s good but it’s rotten. As much as the people stuck there were literally rotting, the place and people running that place were rotten to their core, convincing themselves of a false righteousness.
No where did the human condition become unpeeled like the Alzheimer’s unit. A locked unit, because if patients escaped they could freeze on the roof (that actually happened in a sister nursing home). It’s not just watching a person vanishing before their body gives up, it’s also watching how we treat a human who has no attachment to the human they once were. Just a vessel. What’s worse: To look in someone’s eyes and to see they’re not there. Or to watch people treat a human like they’re not a human at all.
At the same time, on the home front, my grandmother was in the throes of what would be a long struggle with Alzhemier’s. And though my parents had years of life on me, I remember looking at them knowing they didn’t yet know how bad it was going to get. They didn’t know. But me, their young daughter, I already knew. There are just some things you can never unlearn. Sometimes lessons are learned too soon, you know.
Even then I used to say, “I want to die before you,” to my parents. A grand kind of torture to the ears of any parent. “What the fuck is wrong with you?”
Later, much later. When I had long quit that job. When my grandmother’s battle was no longer fought. When warnings were no longer warnings, they were now past happenstance. And then my own mother would utter the words, “if I’m like that please kill me.”
“Me?! Why do I have do it? Why can’t you do it yourself?”
“Because you’re in that sweet spot between crazy and compassionate.”
“I’ll race you to the finish line.”
It didn’t take me a year to learn this. To have certainties never really thought on or questioned put into their rightful place.
The Three’s Of Death.
1. We all die alone. All of us. You will. I will. Your parents will. Your kids. Your brothers. Sisters. Not dying alone is a fiction. Even if you have someone next to you, you’re going to that long sleep alone. And you’ll be scared. You’ll wish there was more time. More time with the people you miss. You’ll be terrified. I’d seen it many times. You’ll go alone and you’ll be scared. There’s no way around it. And that’s the best option of the three. That’s the best option. It’s not as bad as 2.
2. To be ready to die. That’s worse than being scared. Spend enough time in a nursing home and you’ll learn that quick. Being ready to die is worse than dying alone and far worse than being scared. Those people who are left in their wheelchairs in hallways, waiting to have their next shitty meal. Likely, they won’t have tears left to shed, they’ll cry out to the Lord (usually the Lord, they’re merciless God) to take them, take them. I want to die, please… they plead and plead, but these words are uttered so often in a nursing home their meaning goes without being heard. They want to die. And that’s worse than being scared. That’s worse than being alone. Being ready. But even that’s not the worst of the threes.
3. If the word “dementia” doesn’t send shivers down your spine it should. We’re bent on a cure for Alzhemier’s, and we should be, but in the meantime there should be an alternative option. There should be a euthanized option. Think me cruel then you’ve never worked in a nursing home or watched a loved one vanish from their mind and body. Worse than dying alone or being ready to die is having no fucking idea if you’re alive or dead. To wake up in pain, to have people yelling at you, people claiming they know you and crying when they can see that there is no recognition in your eyes. That’s the worst of death 3’s. To reach a point where you don’t know that you’re ready to die, let alone even grasp the idea of dying. Bring a person who’s lost their mind into a moment of lucidity and not only would they be ready to die, they’d be happy to die alone. Because as soon as the lucid moment is gone, they are truly alone in a what is a wasteland of what their mind used to be. They’re already dead. You’re spending time with a corpse.