We had an interesting scare today.
My father was sick, with a temperature topping 104 degrees. My brother and sister and I agreed some time ago to put him under so-called "comfort measures," which means directing medical staff to keep him comfortable, but not to take any measures to save his life. He has a respiratory illness, and pneumonia has been making the rounds at his nursing home, so this was the concern. If he did have have pneumonia it could mean morphine to ease his pain, but no antibiotics to cure the illness.
When you've been dealing with a parent with Alzheimer's for 10 years, such news brings with it a mixture of fear and guilty relief -- even hope. It seems so wrong to feel uplifted, to think that maybe this finally means an end -- but it's what we all think anyway. My father himself would have been the first to chime in with a hearty chuckle, "Oh GOSH yes, just put me out of my misery already!" In his advanced stages of Alzheimer's, my father probably isn't unhappy now, but for us it would mean our prolonged mourning at his loss finally leading to closure.
Other cultures embrace death, and see it as a passage to a higher world, a better place. My father would like have been philosophical about it too, though I tend to see things more literally. To me, it really is an end. Perhaps that explains the instinctive taboo, the immediate resistance to the idea, even when all parties secretly agree it would be the best thing.
My brother reports that my Dad's temperature broke, and he's likely in for several more years of a happy, to him, life. My Dad himself wouldn't have called his current existence "life," as he was fiercely independent, and perhaps for that reason death won't seem so bad. I hope I really still feel that way when it really comes.