November 2020 - When family and friends have a birthday, we often wish them many more birthdays to come as though a long life is a great gift. Is it always desirable?
I have many long-living relatives. My grandparents died at ages 95 and 88 in Pila, Laguna. My husband’s grandmother died at age 103 in Apalit Pampanga. My godmother, the younger sister of my mother, died at 103 and her husband at 101 in Guimbal, Iloilo. But my mother who moved from Guimbal to Manila when she was only 18 to study nursing, then got married and raised a family there died at an early age of 56 while my father who left Pila while still in high school to study in Manila and settled there for good died at age 52.
It would seem that the simple life and clean environment of rural Philippines were more conducive to long life than the hectic and stressful life in the city. But advancement in technology and medicine has now made long life possible even in urban areas. But does quality of life also come with long life whether in the farm or in the city?
Sadly, for many Filipino seniors in Canada, their golden years may not glitter like gold. Senior Filipinos who were sponsored by their children to take care of grandchildren are less financially secure if they were not employed outside the home and entitled to pension and other benefits in retirement. Not being fully acculturated to Canadian life, they may feel lonely when left alone all day while the rest of the family goes to school or work. They may suffer from severe isolation and depression if their children are forced to put them in a nursing home perhaps because all adults in the family need to work to make ends meet so nobody is home to care for an elderly parent. Or their place may not be suitable for an invalid’s wheelchair and safety.
To have a decent quality of life in old age in Canada, one must be mentally alert and aware, be physically strong and healthy and financially secure and independent. Caring for a mentally incapacitated or physically handicapped parent is a huge burden to impose on anyone. Most parents know this and do not wish to be such a burden to their children so they may agree to go to a nursing home.
LongTerm Care Homes
Nursing homes, no matter how fancy and expensive, are virtual prisons. And low-cost homes are often shorthanded with poorly trained staff and horrid sanitary conditions that they should be condemned but they continue to operate.
In nursing homes where residents require 24-hour care, the residents are locked in for safety. They are not allowed to wander outside the building on their own for fear they would get lost and hurt themselves. There had been news items about residents who walked out in their pajamas in the middle of a snowy winter night and later found dead from hypothermia on the sidewalk not far from the nursing home. Thus for their safety and the staff’s concerns, residents, like children, are constantly told what they can and cannot do.
Most low-cost nursing homes are more concerned about making the job easy for the staff rather than making life pleasant for its elderly residents. Meal times are regulated and served only at specific hours. Meals are usually bland and balanced enough to nourish the body but not the soul. Nor do they satisfy an occasional craving for rich, fatty and high-in-cholesterol favorites. Troublesome foods are not served to prevent gagging and diarrhea which could embarrass the resident and cause more laundry and cleaning up for the staff.
Bothersome and complaining seniors are often mildly sedated to keep them quiet and peaceful for the sake of other residents. Television sets are on all day so residents would have something to look at even though they don’t understand what they are watching. Organized activities are mainly to keep them visually occupied but not necessarily to stimulate their minds. The main purpose of these institutions is simply to keep the residents reasonably pain-free, comfortable and safe from each other. Not necessarily to improve their quality of life.
Many Filipino seniors who came to Canada in the prime of life, worked and retired with pensions are opting to spend their retirement years in the Philippines where their pensions last longer. (See Caring for the Sick and Elderly in the Philippines in our Nov. 16th edition). Those who choose to remain in Canada to be close to family may eventually face the prospect of how to spend the final years of their life in this country.
Growing old in Canada
Ideally, if they can retrofit their home to be invalid-safe and they can afford to have caregivers looking after them day and night, Filipino seniors can grow old at home until the final days of their life. But even under this ideal situation, if they suffer from chronic or other illnesses, all their visits to doctors and hospitals will only prolong their rapidly deteriorating condition while keeping them as physically comfortable and pain free as possible. There is no regard for the life of the mind at this stage because once dementia sets in, the mind dies with age long before the body does. Thus when people of a certain age with serious illnesses are institutionalized or hospitalized, their family is routinely asked to sign a statement indicating whether or not to resuscitate the patient or use artificial means to prolong life should such a question arise.
How life ends
As people ponder the end of life, they need to ask themselves: how much are they willing to spend in time, money and effort just to have a few more years of merely breathing but not really living? Some would probably just leave it all to God and fate. Others may prefer to end life on their own terms through medically assisted death, now legal in Canada. It’s a decision we all must make when the time comes. And it’s something to think about as we age and come face to face with our mortality.
Cold, dark and dreary November must be the saddest month of the year. The sky is grey, the trees are bare, the ground is brown and people go around in dark clothing as though already in mourning. Even the holidays of November are sad – All Saints Day, All Souls Day, Remembrance Day – all prompting thoughts of dying, death and departed loved ones.
One early evening as I sat in the dark watching the dusk take over the last lingering sun-rays of day, I wondered if the end of life happens in the same way – like the gradual surrender of light to the dark unknown. I thought then that must be one of the reasons why Christmas is such a highly anticipated joyful season. After November 1st, even I can barely wait for December to come around when carols fill the airwaves and shops start counting the days before Christmas.
By Eleanor R. Laquian
for The CFNet Editorial Board