Another Random Media & Technology Post

Why Am I Alive?

Why Am I Alive?

I know my father.  The question is bait.  “Why don’t I just die?”  “What can I do?”  He doesn’t really ask the question out of any kind of search for an answer for himself. It isn’t an esoteric question about the meaning of life.  From my father, the question is mostly a way to start a conversation.  And despite the fact that he can’t remember what he did yesterday, he knows, he knows on a level beyond memory, that this line of questions will get a rise out of me every time.

But with that said, he is a child of the depression and believes, to his core, that one must be productive or die.  So he is certain that at his age, in his condition, he serves no useful purpose and should not be on the earth anymore.

But there’s even more to the whole “why am I alive” question. And it is part of the reason that the question is ‘bait’ for me  He is sure that those who care for the ‘worthless’ are also worthless.  In other words, because I spend all of my time taking care of him, I’m wasting my life.  To him, I am performing work less productive than that of a ditch digger.

Not that he doesn’t appreciate my help.  That isn’t the point.  But every time he says “thank you”, what he actually means is “I didn’t really want your help because I should have been able to do this for myself and you’ve just pointed out that I’m a worthless excuse for a human being, So, fuck you. Very much.”

On top of all of this, my father is simply not someone who can enjoy or feel any pleasure from something so nebulous as a beautiful day.  A sunny day is actually an opportunity to ‘do some work outside.’  While he might secretly enjoy a walk on a pleasant day, the real purpose is to ‘get some exercise.’  So, obviously to him, an elderly person who can not perform any productive task – and I mean productive like contributing to world peace or building a fence or fixing the sprinkling system – serves no useful purpose and has no reason to be alive.

Now, folks who specialize in taking care of the elderly, will point to a variety of strategies which can help an elderly or infirm person to ‘feel useful’.  I’m afraid they would be wasting their time with my father.  He won’t waste his time making pretty ‘artsy-craftsy’ book markers. Whats more, his ability to respect the work of elderly caregivers at all is severely limited by the fact that obviously, taking care of the elderly and infirm is pretty much a waste of time since there’s really no hope of ‘fixing’ them – they are all a lost cause.

If it seems as though I’m painting a picture of my father that is pretty joyless, I can only say he didn’t seem that way to me as I grew up.  He was a teacher and constantly focused on things to learn and opportunities for learning.  He spent his time with children and focused on special education, looking for ways to help them find ways to be productive in their own lives.

But old age has left him stunned and unable to simply stop, look around and say, ‘well, isn’t this nice, just like this!”  None of the things that gave him satisfaction in his life translate into old age.  He never had a hobby and was never really able to find much appreciation for the personal achievements of others, like athletes or performers or even teachers.

His job in special education was to find ‘options’ for those with learning disabilities.  And now he would like to find ‘options’ to solve the ‘problem’ of his old age.  Maybe what I’m describing isn’t all that unique.  Certainly, it is difficult for many aging parents to live with adult children.  And of course parents want their children to be happy.

And I’m aware that I seem to be saying two contradictory things here.  First, when he asks “why don’t I just die?” I’m asserting that he’s just trying to start a conversation, that he doesn’t actually think he should die.  But on the other hand he doesn’t believe that there’s a useful purpose for the elderly and infirm (and he is both.)

The trick is just this:  His dementia makes both things true.  His mental incapacity has not affected his  personality or anything connected to his core beliefs.  But he can’t allow himself to actually come to the place where he can accept the limitations that old age has put upon him.  Posing questions is what he has always done in his role as a teacher/psychologist. He’s just doing his job by posing the question. Fulfilling the role he’s always filled.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.