September 17. “Refusal to hope is nothing more than a decision to die.” (Bernie S. Siegel, M.D.)
In the later years of my mother’s life, I watched as she slowly gave up hope. Over a fairly long period of time, she went from being a home owner, to an apartment dweller. From there, due to a series of falls, she stepped down to being in assisted living. Eventually her body deteriorated until she was in nursing care.
Each time she stepped down it took a bit more of her spirit from her. Each time I saw her activity level drop, and her social interactions wane. As the years wore on there were trips to the hospital for a few days at a time. Sometimes I would make it back to see her during the hospital stays, other times I could not, but I would call and try to talk to her. It was hard to watch this all unfold over that last decade and a half.
In the last few years she stopped answering the phone. I would call to her room, where I knew there was a phone at her bedside, and I would let it ring, and ring, and ring. Sometimes I would get her on the phone, and ask about why she didn’t answer. She told me she couldn’t hear it, or couldn’t reach it. Twice her bedside phone was replaced with newer models, but it never seemed to help. Her phones weren’t equipped with caller ID, so she didn’t know who in particular was calling. The sad fact was that she just didn’t want to talk to anyone.
In retrospect it is obvious that over time she just gave up hope. Each step down robbed her of a bit of her independence. Each setback pushed her deeper into a hole from which she simply could not climb out.
When I would take my wife and children to visit her, we would try hard to boost her spirits. Sometimes my wife would cook something special and take it along on the 3 hour trip. Other times we’d try to engage her in a game of cards. Always we tried to have a conversation with her. We’d tell her of our lives, the things we were accomplishing, the challenges we faced. At first she was keenly interested, but over the years the spirit of that interest evaporated until she would more or less blankly stare at whomever was talking with no gleam in her eye.
On those occasions when I would get her to answer the phone I did my best to sound hopeful. I did what I could to get her excited about something, anything. But in the end it became harder and harder.
I have written here before that I do not want to die like she did. I don’t want to die alone with no loved ones around in a strange room. I know that how she ended up was a result of a lot of circumstance and decisions along the way. I could write two books about how difficult she could be at times. But you know what? I am difficult at times too. As much as anything else in my life, one thing that I hope will keep me from her fate is hope. If I ever give up hope for myself, my wife, my children and my friends, then I will be doomed.
A refusal to hope is indeed a death sentence. It is a death sentence for the spirit, and eventually, for the mind and body. Without hope, life is pointless.