Friday, 24 July 2015


There was an unusual obituary in last weekends paper. It was funny, memorable, honest and a great tribute to a very much loved lady who died at 94 and had many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to mourn her loss. It created a stir on social media and as a result, an article about it was written a couple of days later. Instead of simply mourning her loss and elevating her to the status of saint with this obituary, as most obits do, her family celebrated her life and acknowledged both her faults and her humanity. It was indeed a lovely tribute.

And it got me thinking about legacies and what we leave behind. I think as we go through life most people don't put great pains into trying to figure out how they can leave a lasting legacy behind for their families. More often people seem to think in terms of money or possessions rather than the qualities they want to be remembered for. I wonder how many people go through life wanting to leave behind a better world when they are gone. And how many never think in terms of how they will be remembered.

This whole topic reminds me of the poem called 'The Dash' by Linda Ellis  - (the line between one's birth and death on their tombstone) "... For that dash represents all that they spent alive on earth. And now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth. For it matters not, how much we own, the cars...the house...the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash..." (The full poem can be found at

One poem says it all so well - in our fast paced materialistic world, sometimes we need to be reminded that life is not about possessions - its about relationships and people. A lasting legacy isn't about getting your name on a wall that strangers can read, its about the memories you leave your family with and 'how you spend your dash'. 

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The Ethics of Ageism

There is a weekend column in our local paper that I occasionally glance at. It has to do with ethics. People write in a question and the journalist gives them a response based on what he has determined is ethical. This week's column caught my attention because it was about a senior. A daughter of a very elderly woman wrote in because her mother was refusing to eat and she wondered if it was okay to leave her to eat tea and biscuits as she requests or if she should be more aggressive in attempting to get her to eat. The answer from the columnist's perspective was that she didn't have any joy in life any more and perhaps had a change in taste buds so wanted to die a natural death. His advise - keep her hydrated but don't try to force food.

I have to say this response disturbed me considerably. At no point did the person writing in or the person responding, talk about having a conversation with the mother. From the letter it did not appear that the daughter had asked her mother why she had chosen not to eat or explored the issue with her doctor. Nor was this even suggested to her. There was no indication of dementia or mental health issues. The response was paternalistic and ageist to say the least and reminded me of a woman I knew whose family put her in a retirement home of their choosing where she did not like the food. They claimed she was fussy and it really wasn't anything to be concerned about until she died a couple of years later and they revealed that she had lost a considerable amount of weight because of the food issue and had wasted away.

I am not a doctor or an ethicist but I don't believe people who are mentally competent wish to starve themselves to death. I believe that food is one of the few pleasures we have for our entire lives and as such, if someone is refusing food there must be a reason and it should be explored.  First and foremost, someone should ask her why. If she doesn't know, then a doctor's visit is in order. I can only imagine the guilt the daughter would feel watching her mother starve to death - why she would write to a newspaper instead of talking to a medical professional is beyond me but clearly there is more to this story than that letter conveyed. Regardless of someone's age, it is neglect to not investigate an issue of not eating. The response to the daughter's letter was at the very least irresponsible and most definitely not ethical.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Retirement Cruising

Yet again the "it's cheaper to live on a cruise ship than a retirement home" email hit my inbox. I have seen it several times over the last few years and usually just send it to my trash box however, this time I decided it was worth giving it some thought... The basis of this circulating text is that the cost of living in a retirement home is so great, that its cheaper to pack your bags and cruise the world in comfort and style.

I need to confess that I love cruising for many reasons - something for everyone, someone else does the cooking, lots of entertainment and you see a different place almost every day. But would I love it if it were my life instead of a vacation? And what if I needed medical assistance or physical help? Would I miss having long-standing relationships? Beyond the staff, there would be no one the same from one week to the next. Would I miss my family and friends and being able to see them whenever I want? Would I go 'stir crazy' in the small cabin for an extended period of time? Besides financial implications, is it really a viable option for one's retirement?

Retirement homes give you many of the same things on land including social activity & meal preparation. But, there is the added benefit of medical attention, assistance with care, and access to family and friends. Suite sizes vary and for those with extra income, there are options of larger spaces and more than one bedroom and bathroom. The only prohibitive factor for some may be the cost. Though if you compare it to living on a cruise ship, the difference may be negligible if at all. In fact, I have heard people describe a retirement home as a 'cruise  ship on land'.

Of course, for most, there is no place like home and when possible every effort should be made to allow someone to stay in their home, albeit with assistance if required. Failing that, retirement homes are a good option which often keeps people healthier for much longer because of the regular and nutritious meals, exercise programs and social interaction. As tempting as an idea cruising into retirement is, it's likely the concept rather than the reality that is appealing.