Do not go Gentle into that good night

February 11, 2017

Do not go gentle into that good night.  When I first read Dylan Thomas’s poem, I thought it was a masterpiece. YES! I thought. I want to claim every last moment of my beating heart with intensity, to claim the last iota of mortal joy. Of course my parents and parents-in-law would/should feel the same way.

Now I’m not so sure. I long for my beloved mother to have peace as she faces her final years.  The poem, written for the poet’s dying father, doesn’t address the practical considerations. When I first responded to it, I had never thought about the day to day process of aging.  I’m dealing mostly with my mom. She, of all people,  can’t seem to go gently.

She is desperately fighting the loss of her independence. Yet at other times, she feels frightened and vulnerable and wants someone to take care of her.

She wants to keep her own home, but she doesn’t want to live alone. Anyone else can see that living alone is now impossible. But Mom doesn’t know what she doesn’t know.

Yesterday, I refilled her pill sorter and noticed that several of her daily medicines have driving and heavy machinery warnings on them. My siblings and I have known for a while that she should not be driving. But she has been extremely resistant to any change in her independence status.

It was just two years ago that she was complaining that her 96-year-old husband would not give up his drivers license. He had been a dangerous, unpredictable and scary driver for years.  The last time I drove with him, I thought we were all going to die. I was truly repenting of everything I could think of, hoping that it was in time. I never think of that car ride without thinking of Mr. Magoo.

Yet when Mom  told him that he shouldn’t be driving anymore. He told her that if he couldn’t drive, he’d rather be dead.

When he wouldn’t give up driving, she told me (and probably my siblings also,) “When I get to that point, you have to tell me! Just take away the keys.”

Yesterday, I told my darling mother that with all the medicines that she would be taking for the rest of her life, she absolutely couldn’t drive. The medicines aren’t the main issue, but it’s a less personal excuse for letting her know. She was talking about driving and insisted that she felt completely competent. I felt I needed to let her know that driving was out of the question. Even if she could operate the car, if anything unexpected happened, I doubt she could deal properly with it. Besides that, she get’s lost constantly.

“Why am I even still alive?” she wept.

I reminded her that there were many people who love her and want more time with her. I reminded her that she had told me that we children HAD to let her know when she  got to the point of being an unsafe driver.

“Did I say that?”

“Yes, Mom, more than once.”

“I guess I thought it would never happen to me. I wanted to be like my Dad who was sharp until the day he died.”

“We don’t always get to choose how our lives develop, do we?”

“I guess not…but I want to be independent!”

I felt mean. My heart ached. I put my arms around her and held her close and told her that I loved her. I told her to be happy in the love and concern that all seven of her children have for her. I told her for the 100th time that we were all eager to help her be happy and looked forward to having her company.

The good news is that within a few minutes, she had forgotten the conversation. That’s the best part about advancing dementia or Alzheimer Disease. We can distract her from her dolor and it goes away altogether. But it seems to me that if we remind her enough that she shouldn’t drive anymore, she’ll remember and accept it, little by little.

Recently she commented on our old friend, Les Allen. “He got very forgetful toward the end. But it didn’t seem to bother him. When he couldn’t remember something he’d laugh it off with “I don’t remember very well these days.” ‘

I had pointed out that he was still himself. He was not less intelligent because of the effects of old age, he was just temporarily unable to access everything he knew. Nobody loved him any less, just because he couldn’t remember.  She agreed that it was true. “I wish I was like Les.”

This afternoon, an old friend of hers, Arline, called my cell trying to find Mom. This faithful friend has lung cancer. She has gone onto hospice. But she told me that whether she lives a few more years or goes quickly, she was fine. “I’ve been a widow for a long time. If it’s time for me to go see my husband again, then I’m fine with that. Either way, I’m fine.”

She wanted to come visit my mother. My brother had apparently explained the situation to her. Mom was listening to our conversation and when Arline said, “I have loved your mother so much,” Mom’s eyes welled up with tears.

How I hope that my siblings and I can help our mother face the last years of her life with similar aplomb to Les and Arline! What luxury is gentle acceptance, peace and gratitude for our Heavenly Father’s Plan of Happiness.

And I pray that I can be gentle and patient and wise and cheerful and loving and sympathetic and help her go softly into that good night. No, Mr. Thomas, I think peace is better. IMG_6694 Mom is never happier than when she gets to swim in the ocean. This is Costa Rica in 1999.

Do not go gentle into that good night

Dylan Thomas, 19141953

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.



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  • Reply Wendy February 11, 2017 at 9:08 pm

    This brought tears to my eyes. These have been my “shoes” with our parents for a couple of years now, and it is so heartbreaking to watch age and illness ravage their once vibrant minds and bodies. It is also difficult to know that my generation is next.
    It is also the opportunity to protect, love, and care for them as they have protected and loved me all of these 60 years. The role reversal is quite an education. Thank you so much for writing this.

  • Reply Katie cheesman February 13, 2017 at 5:04 pm

    Les is my grandpa! I lived and took care of him during the years he faced dementia. This is so beautiful, thank you.

    • Reply BEMS February 14, 2017 at 3:42 pm

      Katie, you mom’s family was as dear or dearer to us as any of our actual relatives. They are some that I look forward to seeing again when my turn to go into the good night comes.

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