His mother died when she was 48. His brother died, having been able to pass a mere 32 birthdays. His sister died also at the age of 48. He had to give his daughter to death when she was only 31. He had cancer before she was diagnosed with hers. Soon after she died, his body formed another type. A third struck him last week. Not metastasis of his first, or the second. A new one.
He is 82.
He practiced medicine right after his graduation from the medical university in Istanbul, Turkey. Having served for decades in Germany as the head physician in the hospital from where he retired years ago. He knows what must be done when, whenever medical interferences are concerned. He has led countless surgical procedures during his tenure. He has tended to post-surgery needs of his numerous patients of all ages and walks of life during his time.
The medical staff of the hospital where he has had two surgeries in short intervals, responded to his two calls for alarm after half an hour had passed. One was for dangerously low, the other for dangerously high blood pressure – both along with breathing difficulties. Half an hour of a wait! On the night of his surgery! Why not take longer to let the patient develop fatal post-surgery complications? He lived 82 years, after all, isn’t that enough?
Describing the ordeal she and her 55-year-old husband had because of his cancer and ensuing death, Cheryl Eckl makes a remarkable statement in her essay, Elder Grief: The Hidden Burden of Advanced Age. Why growing really old may be worse than dying young (Published on May 24, 2012 by Cheryl Eckl in A Beautiful Grief: “[…] what he was not suffering was the additional burden of advanced age.” Referring then to her mother’s declining health at a very advanced age, Eckl considers “that perhaps even worse than dying young is living to be very old, with little quality of life due to several serious ailments, but not being sick enough to leave this world.” Her mother, Eckl writes, knows several people “who would be very happy not to wake up tomorrow.”
On this blood-freezing sentiment, Eckl contemplates as in the following: “That is the cruelty being suffered in obscurity by millions of the elderly who are shut away in nursing homes and senior living centers across the United States. Bored, lonely, in pain, or so demented or sedated that they don’t know who they are, these are the forgotten mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunties, and uncles who deserve better attention than they are receiving.”
For the onset of her cancer and the metastasis of it, my mother was treated through surgical procedures in Turkey and in Germany. Three decades ago. My mother didn’t want to be advanced in age to the extent that she would no longer be able to live a life of quality. She got her wish.
My uncle’s “case” is happening in Germany. Today.
The United States, in other words, is not the only cultural entity where this “cruelty” goes on.
For people who are among those living beyond their expected age of death – whatever that may be, Eckl invites us to imagine how for them “the borders of daily experience narrow as distress grows and the ability to perform all but the simplest of tasks disappears.” What does Eckl suggest as a balm for a life having to consist of “a succession of doctor appointments and increasingly invasive and dehumanizing treatments”? Love and our presence in their lives.
He is 82. He has always been present in my life. And still is. In Eckl’s words, he has never deprived me of his “heartfelt presence” (Eckl) Or, of his love. Unconditional love. After my mom’s death, he told me he finds in me his mother – “Anamsın” and his sister (my mom) –“Bacımsın.” After his daughter’s death, he saw her in me – “Kızımsın.”
In him, I always found a fully involved father. I still do. I went through many ordeals. He was there for me during each one of them. I love him so.
Where is, though, my heartfelt presence when he needs it the most?
Dayı, beni affet.