Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Quality Versus Quantity of Life

Having the experience of seeing my dad struggle with Alzheimer's disease has led me down paths of spirituality that I'd rather never have traveled. When a terrible disease such as this one waltzes into a family, a major split in philosophy of life often occurs.

One group of loved ones may decide that quality of life has to take precedence over quantity. How often have I heard people say: "If I had to live like that, I'd rather just go ahead and die." On the surface, this sounds like a noble and heroic statement. But I've seen a good man struggle to keep each breath and each moment of life he had left be a holy mission: to honor His Creator with whatever little bit of strength and life he could muster. I saw my late husband strive to live one more day...one more hour...one more minute...and he did it with far more grace than I think I could muster. The intensity of good men to honor living with their last breath feels to me like an honest recognition of God's genes in them. In a sense, they see each breath as holy...a holy mission from God because to keep living, in the face of pain and adversity, is do God's will to the nth degree.

I struggle now with this quality of life philosophy because in my dad, I see God. In my dad, I feel a breath from his mouth that was begun in Adam and came from God Himself. In my dad, I still see his hands and his feet and the little things that still bring him joy. In this illness, all but the barest pleasures...the ones we come into the world with: the desire to feed and to laugh and to see our loved ones faces, are often the only things left. I have learned to strip down my definition of the "good" life to mere seconds in the tiniest of moments that could be called "good". I've learned to find great treasure and great worth in seeing Dad cross his ankles and tap his toes...it means he's content. I sigh and say, "That is good...he's feeling no pain for right now."

When I stroke his soft, spiky, white hair, and his eyes close in comfort, I say, "This is good...he's feeling my love and concern for him: he knows I care." He may remember in that very moment only, and not much beyond a moment, but I've had to learn that it's enough. Life is good for that minute or two.

There are sparks of life in Dad that surprise and confound us still. When I see that, I know life is good...I know His Creator has blessed him and us...and I squelch the selfish side of me that deigns to think there should be more. I'm beginning to know that the act of living...Dad's perseverance to keep fighting...a sigh of happiness from him that shows his pleasure in something as simple as a cup of hot coffee, is a holy act ordained and given as a gift by God. I sometimes find myself wanting to say out loud: "You have given my dad so much...and You have blessed his kids so much...even in Dad's illness, You are a holy and loving God."

There are some members in my family that would not agree. Some will find this attitude unrealistic or even wrong. But in my heart and soul, more and more I am learning that the bending of the will...the surrender of the wants...the sigh that says, "I let go of how I want it" is more an act of worship than any other kind of sacrifice I could offer to the Lord. And to say to God, with hands lifted up-- holding nothing--"I am blessed" has to be one of the dearest offerings God can receive.

Quality versus quantity...the wants versus the is...the desires versus the reality...they are all a measure of a heart. Taking a life and holding each little thing as sacred, and offering back to God our loved one's futures--whatever they may be--that, to me, is recognizing the holiness in each soul that comes only from the hand of God.

For these reasons, I have come to the conclusion that Do Not Resuscitate orders are contrary to right to life thinking. To me, it is better to ALWAYS opt for life.

"Lord, thank You that each breath You breathed in my dad has Your loving DNA mingled through it. Continue to help me see each living moment that Dad has left as a gift from Your hand...and help me to know that whatever You do for Dad in the next few days, You have ordained it holy and worthy and right. In Jesus' lovely name, Amen."

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 'For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ Acts 17:24-28


Unknown said...

This is a hard topic. My grandfather just died last November. He kept going long after the doctors gave him days to live. It was really hard at the end. He couldn't speak, he couldn't do anything, but at the same time he still enjoyed human contact. We would all rub his head too. The important thing is to remember that God knows the days of a man's life. We won't leave this earth till He is ready for us to. Both the quantity and the quality are in His hands.

Yvonne Blake said...

Dee, I love you can see the subtle clues of how your father is feeling. I love that you can be near him and live these times with him and enjoy each breath, each day of life too. Be grateful for this special time with him. Don't worry what others say; it's just between you and your daddy and God.

(((((Vonnie Hugs))))