THE golden years allow us to slow down and savour life at our own pace. We are able to cherish the time and space we momentarily own. After all, we worked all our life to earn a decent retirement. However, we know that time is not ours forever. Look around and we find our circle of friends diminishing over time. We read about the passing of people we know in the obituary pages. Each loss affects us emotionally or physiologically.
As we age, we slowly lose control of ourselves and the simple chores we were so capable of managing before. We may lose our mobility and require a wheelchair or assistance in moving around. We won’t be able to read messages on our handphones without the aid of reading glasses and hence slowly lose sense of sight. Names of familiar people slowly fade away and it takes a while to recollect. We seem to retain information on people, events and places in our younger days better than we do at a later stage.
It is ironic that our natural capability to eat and drink independently becomes a challenging task. We suddenly cannot control our bladder and have to wear adult diapers. Our speech slurs and we are dissuaded from engaging in a meaningful conversation with our loved ones. We need someone to clean and bathe us. Inevitably, we start losing confidence in ourselves and depression kicks in. We see ourselves as a burden to our loved ones. We get angry and frustrated with ourselves.
Some women invest in anti-ageing products and treatments that include hormone therapy and anti-ageing products or cosmetic surgery. Unfortunately these therapies offer no guarantees of immortality – just the promise of prolonging life. Overall, we cannot stop the ageing process and will move on one day, no matter how hard we try to delay it. I recall the oxygen chamber that one very popular male artist would sleep in, to delay his ageing process, however he sadly died from cardiac arrest at the age of 50.
So hey, isn’t growing old part and parcel of life? Haven’t we come a long way to learn that what we’re going through is absolutely normal? We all will age. So, let’s age gracefully. It is perfectly okay to be aided by loved ones and to rely on medical equipment and facilities. Over time, we must come to terms with this seemingly challenging phase of our lives. Once we are able to grapple with growing old, we will be happier and set more reasonable expectations for ourselves. After all, we just want to be happy and healthy in our senior age.
What follows from the ageing process is our final day. They say there are two things which are certain in life – taxes and death. While many of us frown at the subject of death, it is inevitable and everyone will go through it. The question is, do we prepare for our final day while we are healthy and able? Or do we brush this supposedly taboo subject aside and let the ones we leave behind manage our final affairs?
While the rituals, prayers and final send-off comes to mind, there are also other matters to deal with. It’s about preparing and teaching our loved ones to take over the roles we’ve played on the domestic front. There is also the communication on our financial plans, so our family need not scramble over our various bank accounts, insurance plans and assets.
While the focus has always been on the ailing person, the loved ones they leave behind must not be overlooked. The situation leading to death will also require different types of comfort.
Deaths that occur unexpectedly, for example in an accident, would be the most tragic and difficult to come to terms with. Unfortunately, we don’t have the prerogative to choose the way we will go.
Circumstances surrounding an impending death are generally health-related. It is essential for those playing the caregiver’s function to know the appropriate care and comfort level to give. Comfort should be extended to the patient and immediate family members. My journalist friend, Soo Ewe Jin, advocates saying nothing but giving comfort by holding their hands. It provides the needful connection to their soul. Generally, research has shown that people in their final moments need care not only in terms of physical comfort but the mental, emotional and spiritual needs which may be more important.
Statistics have shown that Malaysians can expect to live up to an average age of 72 years for males and 78 for females. With awareness on a balanced and nutritious diet, the availability of modern health facilities and improvements in the quality of life, the expectancy for life will continue to increase. In short, we can expect to live longer than our parents and grandparents and our children could possibly live longer than us!
During our final moments, some of us may want to be surrounded by family and friends; others would prefer to have some quiet moments alone. We often hear of requests of the deceased being fulfilled in the manner in which their burial, cremation or rituals take place. So, it’s good to have that communication with your loved ones if you have certain preferences or last wishes on your final send off.
Spiritual gurus tell us that unresolved differences, anger and ego, does not hurt the person we are in disagreement with, rather we bruise ourselves with pain and sorrow. It is best for differences to be resolved while we are able and strong. Let’s not wait to make amends on our dying bed, because it may be too little, too late. Let’s find peace within ourselves while we are alive and kicking. Family unity and harmony must be preserved and nourished, for it is the best legacy that we can leave behind.
Sharing memories of good old times is another way some people find peace near death. This can be comforting for everyone. There is a belief among medical practitioners that even if a patient is unconscious, he or she might still be able to hear you subconsciously. Hence, it is probably never too late to have a conversation and relate your good moments together. Of course, you could include your regrets and apology.
My wise friend tells me that between a wedding reception and a death ceremony, he would go for the latter as it is the most important moment in a person’s life. The comfort extended to the family of the deceased during their bereavement would provide the much-needed support. One can offer words of comfort, a gentle touch or a warm hug, which can be very soothing gestures. There are many tasks involved in a death house. Volunteering to cook or cater food for visitors or sourcing the send-off flowers or getting a date with the temple for the final prayers can be a great help to the grieving family. Praying for the soul to rest in peace is a beautiful offering.
In my family, the older siblings have discussed death as an open subject. My eldest sister Lady Joe who is 70 has shared with us, a list of items and paraphernalia including death clothes that should be ready, and the rituals that need to be carried out. It is good to prepare ourselves mentally. I believe that some of us are ready to face death when our messenger comes. The thought of re-uniting with our beloved parents and friends, who’d left us much earlier, when our time is up, becomes comforting now.