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Monday 1 December 2014

The Boomers' Final Frontier

How quickly things can change. You are feeling fine and routine tests show a problem, or suddenly your health status changes after an attack of some kind. What do you do? How do you want to live out the rest of your life?

A change in health status can happen at any time in our lives but as we get older, we are realistic. My brother, Frank, had a heart attack at fifty, hardly elderly. Now each year adds more wrinkles and thoughts of mortality.

My mother's life changed quickly one day. She volunteered with the St. Vincent de Paul Society in her parish and was there one morning when she got the call to go to the hospital. Her routine x-ray for back pain showed an aneurysm which needed immediate surgery. Mom had surgery right away but the aneurysm could not be repaired. Doctors told her, "Go home and live your life."

Mom's life changed after that experience. She gave up volunteer work and her driver's license. She was more cautious with what she did, and was depressed initially. Mom had questions too, such as would she know when the aneurysm ruptured or was about to rupture. Her family Doctor assured her that she would know. Mom wondered if she would be alone when it happened. She was not, rather she was held by her daughter and granddaughter at the end. Mom passed within minutes, in her home, refusing to go to the hospital.

My father was sick for months and Doctors could not find the problem. About eight months after his initial ill health, he collapsed and went to hospital where a routine chest x-ray showed a tumour in his chest attached to his aorta. He survived eight months at home until the last day of his life when he was admitted to palliative care.

Both of my parents lived with the imminent thoughts of their mortality for a time, Mom for over two years. What was that like for her? Dad lived with a fading body, seeming to disappear into himself over the last weeks as the cancer ravaged his body. Mom was active up to the last day. They had different experiences but the last few breaths were essentially the same in the end.

As we age, the thoughts of mortality become more of an issue, as our own generation becomes the oldest one in society. There are many difficult questions which will be asked and answered as baby boomers progress towards death. It will be an interesting, though unwelcome journey.

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