On the responsibility of being alive


On my latest journey through Haneke, I’ve decided to watch one of his lesser known films, ‘Amour’. The film follows the daily lives of an elderly man and his dying wife [Georges and Anne]; in the typical Haneke style, he spares no suffering or reality of the situation. The difficulty in watching comes from a more subtle subject than we are used to from our merciless director- the decline of dignity in old age, the mental suffering that results from a long-gone independence, and the physical inabilities that the elderly face daily.

This film touches home for me, having spent my teen years taking care of my grandmother who was hated by our family. I didn’t like her either, but someone had to help. Following her death, I moved into my step-paternal [?] grandmothers house, where at the end of a five year loneliness she was finally declining. Neither had good deaths. Neither were happy in suffering, and it might sound terrible that I wished I could have asked them if they wanted me to off them earlier than their time. I know both would’ve given me a resounding ‘yes’.

My maternal grandmother was an opiate addict with a wrecked stomach lining, unable to walk, whose her family hated her. She was an awful woman with a nice streak; she was manipulative and practiced a subtle type of abuse. She bought me a cell phone because she wanted to call me anytime. Which was at least twenty times a day, not an exaggeration. If I didn’t pick up the phone, she’d cry and tell me that she bought me a phone and that I should appreciate her paying for it. I was sixteen with a job and not much of a social life. I spent my weekends with her, watching golden girls or Dr. Phil in the chair next to her; I used to clean her house when I came but she hated when I was out of the room so It would be eight hours a day of watching TV by her side. All the while she had no interest in me or my life. Only my mother mattered to her and I was the door to her. After finding out how much she was using me, I left. Two weeks later she died, screaming and alone.

My step-paternal grandmother was a bit of a different story. She was the epitome of a fifties woman; married young, four children, and photo album filled with happy family vacations. Her husband was wonderful to her and they were married nearly sixty years before he died. She lived alone after that, seemingly a strong woman. People visited her often, we saw her once or twice a week. She wasn’t alone with the exception of nighttime. But those five years took their toll, and we soon moved in to keep her out of a nursing home. We held her high in our respects and wanted her to feel as dignified as we could. But that soon ended; She became vile with age, she was constantly angry that she wasn’t dead and we were the receivers of that anger. She would scream at night for her death and I wished for some sort of mercy to take her away. She was at peace with her death when it came. She wanted to go, and nothing about it frightened her. She only wished it had been sooner.

As of today, I work as an assistant manager in an adult foster home. Eighty-five percent of the folks there are over sixty-five. Most suffer from things like schizophrenia, or diabetes, or blindness, or epilepsy. One has a speech impediment, and the oldest was hit by a car as a child and never recovered mentally. The younger ones in the group [under seventy] are okay with their lives, despite the monotony. But the older ones….they constantly talk about death. I think a lot about how I’ll go if not by accident; If I live to old age, I’d off myself when I’m ready.

I struggled when the thought came to me first. I was young, maybe fifteen. Growing up in a christian house, I was taught that I go when I’m meant to go. That I shouldn’t tamper with the plan. I’ve since stepped away from christianity, but that’s another story. Forced morals aside, I still questioned the responsibility I held in just existing. Do I have to stay if I don’t want to? It should be my choice to go when I’m ready, as I am only fulfilling my own responsibility to myself. I was created by my parents, and I will stay to help them until they pass. And I’m forever by my lover’s side, so I will be for as long as he’s here. But, if I make it past then…if only I am left….what then deciphers my responsibility to continue?

I think the answer will change from person to person. But for me, it is the fulfillment of my life. When I have done all that I love and can do no more, I’ll be ready. When my art has been completed and the beauty I find in the world is withered like my hands, I’ll leave. This could be when my husband dies, or it could be until I die naturally. It could fall before then should I lose my ability to do. I want to die at the peak of my old age, before I begin the decline that takes so many. My dignity will stay with me, and I’ll die in peace knowing that I’ve done all I could do, and that I won’t suffer the process into absence of life, having preserved myself, happily, at that moment of fullness.


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