My mother’s misfortune of developing Alzheimer’s still shapes my way of navigating the world. She endured the horrible disease for more than seven years, before finally dying, with little left of her cognitive functions.
To deal with the illness as a family member, I had to readjust my way of navigating the world. I had to deal with stress. I had to deal with family conflict. I had to deal with helping someone who could never be cured.
Most of all I had to practice what philosophers did more than 2,000 ago, meditate on one’s mortality, or memento mori.
Death, as the ultimate end of my mother’s condition, became relentless as a nagging thought. I had to think about it because it was the way her suffering would end. This is simply an honest reflection, because that is what Alzheimer’s was truly like. It was worse for my step-father, who was her dutiful and loving caregiver.
However, practicing memento mori was not a scary thing. It was and remains a pragmatic thing, as all human life ends, and avoiding thoughts about this is folly. All of us will die, regardless of our station in life or our deepest fears about the end.
Because of this knowledge, I continue to tidy up my plans. I have attended to my probate planning instead of putting off the boring but critical details.
I also realize that by living alone, I am at much greater risk of misfortune, mostly because no one will care for me. This is also a byproduct of being adopted, which is a related and complex story.
So I have started making plans for logical “what if” possibilities.
What if I am hit by a bus? What if I have a bike accident that goes tragically wrong if I am struck by a car? What if I get a serious illness that arrives suddenly?
Too many things have happened in my immediate world of family and friends lately to forestall such thinking and planning.
Tonight I took another small but practical step. In my apartment, I hung a very visible sheet of paper on a wall that could be seen and found in the event of an emergency. It is my cheat sheet who to contact if I am not there and there is a need to reach my emergency contacts. It is a small thing, but it was both easy to and logical. I will add this to my wallet too. And why not?
My mom and step-father had a similar list on their refrigerator door for years as she was sliding to her end. I know hundreds of thousands of others may have done the same thing. They are like the paintings Romans made of skulls and skeletons, reminding all of us our end will eventually come.