Visiting elderly relatives on Christmas — a long life or a life well spent

«I’m glad I could spend one last Christmas with Jesse. He was a crazy son of a bitch, but I sure loved him.»
«I can tell.»
«God, did he know how to live! It was full-throttle all the way! We met in Sturgis, back in ’78. I was sitting at The Broken Spoke with the biggest bad-ass in town, but Jesse … he had some balls on him. He walked right up to me, I’ll never forget it, and he said, ‘If I don’t ask you to take a ride with me, I’ll regret it the rest of my life.’ And that ride lasted 23 years. He always said his two favorite things were riding his hog and riding me, and he treated us both like queens.»
«You’re probably wishing he treated himself as carefully.»
«Oh, honey, it just wasn’t in his blood. If he were a careful man, he might have lived longer, but … would he have enjoyed his life as much? Would I have enjoyed his life as much?»
Marilyn and Nate in Six Feet Under: «It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year»

This posting was a long time coming.

In March of 2020, I regarded Covid as potentially very dangerous, and when the German ministry for health called it fake news that we might have severe restrictions in public life, I started to bunker food, and water, and … other stuff (how was it … yeah, fuck around and find out).

In May of 2020, I looked at the deaths due to Covid (of or with Covid that is) — and I came to the conclusion that yes, Covid can be dangerous, but despite what some … equity-minded people say, Covid is not an equal opportunity killer. It predominantly kills the very old (median age over 80) and those with other illnesses. That doesn’t make it okay, but it makes it manageable, if done right (protect the vulnerable, for fucks sake!). Which our government did not do. Hence the resulting fuckups (I have written enough postings about it).

But between March and May of 2020 was April of 2020. And during that month, on the 17th of April, I watched my father die. Not due to Covid, but due to a second, much more severe stroke. My view on death — which was untested until that moment — was supported.

I guess Neil Gaiman said it best when his Death uttered the following words:

«I’m not blessed, or merciful. I’m just me. I’ve got a job to do, and I do it. Listen: even as we’re talking, I’m there for old and young, innocent and guilty, those who die together and those who die alone. I’m in cars and boats and planes; in hospitals and forests and abattoirs. For some folks death is a release, and for others death is an abomination, a terrible thing. But in the end, I’m there for all of them.»
Death, talking about herself, in «Sandman – Dream Country»

And that’s pretty much my view of death. I do not fear it. I do fear pain, and dying alone (one reason why I would not let my father suffer that fate). But not death. How was it?

Perhaps passing through the gates of death is like passing quietly through the gate in a pasture fence. On the other side, you keep walking, without the need to look back. No shock, no drama, just the lifting of a plank or two in a simple wooden gate in a clearing. Neither pain, nor floods of light, nor great voices, but just the silent crossing of a meadow.
Mark Helprin, «A Soldier of the Great War»

Or like on these two pages:

Dream, about his sister, Death, in Sandman by Neil Gaiman (1/2).
Dream, about his sister, Death, in Sandman by Neil Gaiman (1/2).

Thing is, people die. And that’s a good thing. Immortality would be a curse, not a boon. Living forever would mean that nothing — in the end — would really matter. And while we all would love to have more time, death is something we all will have to face. The question is how.

And to get back to the beginning of the posting, one thing I still regret even more than 1.5 years later, is that I did not visit my father before he died. He asked me when I would come home again. There were a few reasons why did not visit him, but one reason was that I did not want to possibly carry a virus home and potentially kill him.

And he died anyway, without us spending some more time together.

In a way, it was not that devastating, giving that I did deliberately spend time with him before and after his first stroke. Simply because I knew he was getting old and would — sooner than later — die. And I am glad that I did spend the time with him.

But I wonder what I did miss.

And yeah, it’s always easy to look back in hindsight and imagine doing the right decisions. But I also guess that some people are reluctant to visit their relatives due to Covid. I did hear something similar from my aunt not wanting to visit her nearly 95 year old mother (my grandmother). And yeah, that might be the right decision. But it might also be the last time — with or without Covid — to see her.

Nobody lives forever. We cannot freeze time, just to avoid a death by a pandemic. The question is what we will do with our time — and the time that our loved ones have left.

And that decision is yours, and yours alone.