Guest Writer for Wake Up World
Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather of skidding in sideways .. champagne in one hand, strawberries in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming “Woo hoo – what a ride!
On a day to day basis, there is no need to believe that life will be anything other than it is ‘at that moment’. We plan birthdays, schools to attend, jobs, holidays, weddings, where we’ll live, which car we’ll drive, finances and superannuation… but rarely do we discuss in detail our wishes for our ageing or our passing. If, in an instant, our capacity is taken away, our life is then totally in the hands of others. Hospitals and nursing homes become ‘on the spot’, and the only, choices.
As we age, what if we could also make plans to use up every ounce of our life, regardless of our health or conditions? An athlete never stops short of the finish line and yet many old people have their lives put on hold just waiting for the finish line.
What if we could enjoy life right up to the very end … in spectacular fashion?
Dot was a lady whose life was basically the same as everyone else’s. She had raised her family, worked part-time and in her 60’s was enjoying her days setting up a 5 acre hobby farm (in the city).
She was a multi-skilled woman and very resourceful. She could embroider; knit; sew; cook; wallpaper; recover furniture; grow roses, vegetables and fruit trees. On her farm, she maintained sheep, goats, ducks, turkeys, an occasional cow or horse. There was no phone, power or water to the block. She would drive from her home to the farm each day with everything she needed.
To illustrate her resourcefulness ~ when her sheep were shorn, she used the fleece to line a large cardboard box and turned that into a solar oven to cook a meal while she worked. She organized small windmills on islands with moats around them for irrigation; put bridges across the moats from logs on the land; created pens for the animals; set up hives to have bees for pollination and planted flowers to attract butterflies. To my eternal wonderment, she even had an old piano in a shed.
By nature, she was a quiet person all her life. Gradually, aspects of her personality changed and she experienced headaches and sometimes slurred her speech. Many doctors dismissed the symptoms. Once she even said that she had wanted to turn left in her car but found herself turning right – even that didn’t alert us to any problem. By the time, the hospital discovered that she had a tumour in the middle of her brain. It was an emergency issue. She was raced to another hospital and had emergency surgery to relieve the pressure in her skull. From that point, who Dot had been … was now gone.
Over time she underwent two further neuro-surgeries, having 6-inch diameter pieces of her skull taken from the top and then from the back, to approach the tumour. Each time they had to leave a piece because it would have affected an artery.
She experienced a gradual loss of all her living skills from that time on. After ten years – she was unable to walk, talk, understand, feed, bath, dress, toilet. She weighed a skeletal 34 kg. In those ten years, it was as if her life was on ‘pause’. She was no longer an active participant in life. The one thing she did extraordinarily well was convey emotions through her eyes – they sparkled and could instantly connect with anyone.
One day I noticed that her eyes were dulled over as if there was no longer any life force. Sensing that time was running out, I joked with her that seeing as she’d been a fisherwoman in her youth, I was going to take her to see the fish that “got away” at Underwater World. It was a way of sharing the last moments of her life in a fun way.
Many miracles happened that day, and when she had a small stroke a week or so later I assumed that meant her condition would become dire. Instead, it was as if the stroke remedied many of her symptoms and her eyes were dancing like July 4 fireworks. When I looked into her eyes, I had a distinct thought come into my head “OK Sylvia, I nearly went. But now I’m back, ready to enjoy life”.
From that point, I knew that a person isn’t just their body. It doesn’t matter how handicapped, distorted, damaged it is … there is something else ‘inside’ that never changes. I understood that the ‘spirit’ of this woman had been left to languish without inspiration … without fun. I began to think how long she might last. Then I thought of all she had missed out on; how other people her age were travelling around the world, going to parties and concerts. I decided to put a ‘no-limits’ restriction on what she might be able to experience – what we may be able to do to make up for lost time.
One of her first adventures was to be taken from the wheelchair and into a 1930 Open Cockpit Tiger Moth bi-plane. She’d seen it fly over her house for many years. Why not see it from the passenger seat? Why not experience the wind hurtling past her face, the feeling of freedom in the sky and being above all the houses and traffic.
That was the first time I discovered the gift you give others when you invite them to help an elderly person. Four people helped lift her in. The emotion of that ‘caring’ connection inherent in everyone melts not only your heart, but all those involved. Seeing her take off and fly in the clouds was exhilerating. When Dot landed, her face wasn’t wide enough to fit all her smile.
Once she’d done that, the ‘sky was the limit’ (so to speak) for any adventure. Even though she was a frail skeleton, the adventures began in earnest – horse-riding, a Harley Davidson motorbike ride, dances, a boat trip, 4WD trips, a drive to the outback where she was born, a flight half-way across the country to attend a ball (she used to attend them in her youth), dressing up for themed events, concerts……
The more adventures we did – the more she came to life; the deeper the interactions with strangers became and the more miracles that happened. Even though she was physically at a stage where she could have been in a ‘home’, she was still playing a vital part of life. Not only did she experience life to the full, she touched strangers to the core of their being and gave me the priceless gift of seeing her not as a ‘Mum’ but a truly beautiful spirit in her own right.
What I came to know is that “magic” is more than seeing illusions on a stage. “Magic” is seeing hearts connect. “Magic” is seeing a grown man wink with the deepest meaning at lady who is a wrinkled skeleton in a wheelchair. “Magic” is noticing the smallest things in life – a rock, a leaf, an insect so that you can point it out. “Magic” is doing what you thought was ‘impossible’. ‘Magic’ is experiencing true ‘angels on earth’ in the guise of both children and adults. Only while a person has ‘life’ can that be experienced. If we miss those moments, they’re gone forever.
She shared my bedroom for the last year and it was memorable and fun. Yes, there were things to do that you never expect to do for a parent. But the blessings, joy, love and simple discoveries far outweighed the physical ‘care’ aspects.
There are no brochures that say that ‘Aged Care Can Be Fun’, but I invite you to read her website and see what possibilities can be applied. Rather than see ‘the illness’, ‘the prognosis’, ‘the deterioration’ … see that a person still has “LIFE” … and enjoy every moment. The reward is that when the person does finally pass away, there is not a single regret … but there are so many smiles and joyful memories.
“To change one’s life: Start immediately. Do it flamboyantly. No exceptions.” William James
About the Author
The author of this article is Dot’s daughter, Sylvia. Many factors contributed to how it came to be that the end of Dotti’s life was so much fun and inspiration. Sylvia had been raised for ten years in the small town where Dot grew up, allowing her to see a different lifestyle to city life. ‘Entertainment’ was sitting in a massive mulberry tree eating mulberries; ‘grocery shopping’ was going down the back yard and picking any kind of fruit or vegetable; ‘down-time’ was exploring the small creek behind our house; ‘peak hour’ was watching all the stars at night. Please visit DotsAmazingAdventures.com for further details on Dotti’s life ‘before the end’.