Director''s Column - July, 2008: Mother...Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night
|The author’s 87-year-old mother using a walker
Many people in my generation are experiencing a similar set of circumstances with an aging parent. At some point, many frail older adults give up wanting to live and gently surrender to the forces of gravity and dark nights of the soul. Every step becomes one less tomorrow; every day shorter than the previous one.
In mid-April, my mother, a vibrant woman up to the moment she crashed to the floor in her small New York City apartment, was found there by a caring friend who decided to open her apartment door after being unable to contact her for close to two days. From what we could determine, she was on the floor for at least 24 hours, and possibly closer to 36 hours, according to the paramedics. She would not have made it through another night had she not been found at that exact moment late in the evening. No one knows how it happened, and my mother considers it all a blur.
She was brought back to life by her close friend, had her hip repaired, ended up in a rehab facility for 7 weeks, and is now living with my family. At age 87, she must decide if life is worth living. Is she prepared to challenge the darkness and draw closer to the light? Is there enough fight left in her to conquer the gods of apathy and despair? Can she overcome the triple threat of bad hip on top of bad knee on top of bad foot to find a source of energy that will improve her strength and balance so that she can remain walking for short distances? How will she react to living in a new environment with new functional limitations? Will she seize the moment or decide that it's not worth the effort?
There is never a time in anyone's life when physical activity should not be considered a vital part of recovery and sustenance. Now, more than ever, my mother needs to set her sights on the importance of movement and exercise. To a novice's eye, the minimal amounts of activity she is able to do may seem somewhat futile; hardly enough for increasing vitality, strength, and stamina. But to the watchful eye of a clinician or trainer, short bouts of physical activity that challenge the cardiovascular, respiratory, sensory, and musculoskeletal systems can lead a person from the depths of dependence to some form of independence or semi-independence. The beauty of muscle and bone is that it reacts positively to the forces placed against it, even among the frailest of the frail.
While it's still early in the fight, the odds are in my mother's favor that if she decides to keep moving, get a few short bouts of physical activity throughout the day, and sit a little less, she'll have a better and more vibrant recovery. Systems do not function well when the body does not move regularly, and in the later stages of life, lack of movement, physical activity, or exercise could spell disaster.
Everyone admires a fighter. And so, Mom, if you're listening, remember the words of Dylan Thomas:
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.