being mortal

Have you asked yourself the hard questions?

A review of Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

At one point or another, we have to accept that we are mortal. Being Mortal written by Atul Gawande, is a fantastic book that helps the reader ask the hard questions about life.

We give more freedom to children than we do the elderly

In the West we rarely let our elders live their lives the way they want. We worry, we fret and we try and control the level of risk they can take. When you think about it, it’s all a bit bonkers. Yes, my Granny at 86, was at risk of breaking a hip getting onto the trampoline with my 3-year old. But all parties had a great time, and it made a memory that I will hold for many years to come. And post-COVID, moments like this seem even more precious.

Putting our emotions into context is difficult and restricting the freedoms of the elderly generally comes from a place of love and convenience. After reading this book I have fundamentally changed how I view old age.

Our bodies have limitations, but it shouldn’t define the lives we lead

Things start to fail as we get older. We might be more nervous and adapt less quickly to change. But this doesn’t mean we should be written off in terms of our contribution. Atul Gawande highlights examples of couples and individuals looking after themselves, in their own homes, long after their bodies try and stop them from doing so.

The funny thing about old age is that you’ve (hopefully) already had a great life. Everything past 80 could be considered a bonus. I’d rather have fewer extra years but live in my own home on my terms than 10 years in a home removed from daily interactions.

Looking through their eyes

When making a decision for someone else we can often forget to think about their needs. This applies to both children and adults alike. The challenge, apart from cost, of elderly care is that the person receiving it is rarely the decision-maker. Children try and get their own way and fight their corner but the elderly will normally pass 100% of the decision-making over and put their desires second.

This means we have a responsibility to think about what matters to them (freedom/interaction/homeliness) rather than what matters to us (cost/convenience/safety). Connecting with what drives them as a person is the first step in putting them first.

It’s hard to let go

As family, we want to do everything to help make our relatives better in times of illness. But, this can lead to radical treatments and painful complex surgeries. We can forget that staying alive isn’t always the priority of the person who is sick. Their priority might be reducing pain, strengthening relationships with family members, not being a burden or reflecting on achievements. We need to ask people what matters to them at the end of their life.

This situation isn’t helped by doctors who, on average, overestimate how long a terminally ill patient has left. They also recommend treatments they believe won’t work to give the patient hope. Doctors want to save, so they do everything they can to continue life. This is very different from letting someone continue to live.

What is the kind of life worth living to you?

This is a question to ask yourself as well as your loved ones. It is one we avoid as no-one likes to think about the worst-case scenario. But talking openly about our lives and death is a great help to those you care about. It means you can make the right decision for them in the event that they can no longer make it themselves. Prior conversations give us the confidence to make hard decisions.

I’ve changed how I feel about the life I would want to live. I am a fighter and have always held the belief that you should hold on to life no matter what. This isn’t true anymore. I have two small people to look after and whilst I wouldn’t want to miss a second of them growing up, I wouldn’t want to be around if I was a burden to them or my husband. I would find it horribly difficult to be physically incapacitated, but being myself would be enough.

I would create a new version of myself and I could still share moments with my children as well as passing on my ‘wisdom‘. But I wouldn’t want a life with a significantly reduced mental capacity that stopped me from enjoying those moments. That is a hell to the no for me. I couldn’t be who I want to be for my family and that isn’t a life I want to live. So here is hoping I don’t get Alzimethers or that if I do my family will know what is best for me and get me over to Dignitas asap.

Photo by Marco Ortega on Unsplash

About Good Words Online

This blog was designed to be a home for all the content I’ve created over the years. It is a mix of book reviews, personal reflections and business learnings. There is no definitive way to live or work, we all make our own choices. I in no way think I am right about any particular subject. This is simply about sharing what I’ve learnt and creating an online reminder for myself.

The name, good words, has no religious references. We can’t be good all the time. Each of us will make mistakes. All we can do is try to learn from them and try and attempt to be a little better next time.

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