It is March 14, 2020. I am in my house under self imposed isolation. Not because I have been exposed to Covid 19, let alone tested positive, but because I am 79 years old. Not frail, not sick, just 79 years old.
What I am noticing from this now two week isolation, is the similarities between my behavior and thoughts, and end of life behavior and thoughts. I'm thinking and acting like someone with a life threatening illness.
I was doing the laundry, an everyday, normal function, when I looked in the mirror and saw my no make up face and a body still in her bathrobe at 9AM. Who was this person? This person that always puts makeup on, showers daily and dresses very nicely even if she has no where to go?
This is the same as a person with a life threatening illness who thinks why bother, it doesn’t matter, this isn’t important. Isolation from others is teaching me this about my self ——- I do a lot for others, for their thoughts of me, why else do I wear makeup? Get dressed? Bathe (well maybe just for the smell of me)?
I started thinking about how aimless I have become. Floundering to be useful, feeling guilty for not “doing something”, for not appearing productive. Through this isolation my sense of purpose has been affected. Why do I get up in the morning? What do I do all day to keep busy, to fill my time?
So it is with someone with a life threatening illness, from new diagnosis to weeks before death (once labor begins, weeks before death, mental activity changes and this doesn’t apply). They lose their purpose for getting up in the morning, for what to do about the life they are leaving behind? Apathy and depression often follow.
When someone has been told they have a life threatening illness, that they probably can’t be fixed, their life changes, their fears take hold, their thoughts turn to new areas of consideration, their living patterns change.
My husband and I, at 86 he is in this isolation with me, are more attuned to each other, more affectionate, trying to be more connected, nicer, more considerate. It's like unconsciously we are reaching out to what truly matters. It is the same with family and friends. I now think about texting and phone calling just to visit, just to say hi. So it is with someone approaching the end of their life. People often become the focus, relationships matter more.
I’m going to qualify this entire blog by saying we die the way we have lived and according to our personality. A personality that didn’t perceive others, consider others, relate to others will not suddenly, because they can’t be fixed, become Mother Teresa-like. (I do wonder if maybe, just maybe, a glimpse of what might have been glides through their mind hoping to be perceived).
These are the same questions of self searching that affect someone facing the end of their life. Now, I may not be facing the end of my life, right now, and I hope as you read this you aren’t either BUT we will all be in this approaching end of life spot someday, as are the patients we serve and care for.
As I’m sitting at my computer I look out my window and see, in March, snow quietly falling. I see inches of snow, birds at the feeder, all is quiet, all appears right with the world. An illusion, yes, all is not right with the world, but touching into that peacefulness, that calm is healing for my restless mind and spirit.
My wish for you in this time of isolation, of social distancing, is to let the distancing be physical but not emotional. Reach out to others, use this time to evaluate your life, activities, your purpose. Use this separation from the normal pace you have developed to recharge, relax, and reevaluate.