This is part four of a four-part series on aging and being mortal, focusing on the book “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande.
Today, assisted living is just a mere reflection of what Karen Brown Wilson intended it to be when she implemented the concept in the 1980s.
Regulations and corporate developers have morphed assisted living from an autonomous-living environment to nothing more than a segment in the now-popular “continuum of care” for senior living. What a shame.
However, living completely independently as we age is a somewhat self-defeating goal. Our lives are inherently dependent on others. Author Atul Gawande points out that the great philosopher Ronald Dworkin recognized that a more-compelling sense of autonomy is what many of us would like to achieve. He wrote, “Whatever the limits and travails we face, we want to retain the autonomy — the freedom — to be the authors of our lives. The battle of being mortal is the battle to maintain the integrity of one’s life — to avoid becoming so diminished or dissipated or subjugated that who you are becomes disconnected from who you were or who you want to be.”
This is the essence of Gawande’s book, “Being Mortal.” It is written in such a manner that it is a story within many other stories conveyed throughout the book. Gawande has a compelling way of telling these stories to make his point. He describes in detail various situations dealing with people’s life-and-death decisions, including his own father’s struggles near the end of his life. Of critical importance for everyone is the ability to communicate desires and needs along this journey of life. Or is it death? Open and honest conversations make it easier to plan for one’s mortality.
But so many people want to avoid the subject all together — even when we know the inevitable outcome. Why?
I was about two-thirds of the way through the book when I asked myself, “What about miracles?” I kept expecting to soon read about the possibility of miracles in the operating room, or how one’s own spiritual beliefs help in the difficult life-or-death decision-making process. But it never came. Gawande writes two sentences on the second-to-last page of his book regarding the ritual he was to perform after his father’s death.
“It’s hard to raise a good Hindu in small-town Ohio, no matter how much my parents tried,” he wrote. “I was not much a believer in the idea of gods controlling people’s fates and did not suppose that anything we were doing was going to offer my father a special place in any afterworld.”
It was at that point that “Being Mortal” left me feeling incomplete. Almost everything I had read right up to the end was what I had known, felt and experienced. And the book’s title makes perfect reference to the fact that this book is about “certain death.”
But it misses the mark, in my opinion, failing to acknowledge that within this mortal body of ours is a risen spirit. Could it be that this spirit is the true author of life, which means we don’t get quite as much say as we would like when it comes to our imminent death? I think it is equally important to remember that death is not an end in itself, but a means to a greater end.
“… Our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies … Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” — 1 Corinthians: 53-55.
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