Another day, another clanger…

“What do you say when the old person you’re visiting says to you, ‘All my family and friends are dead, I can’t walk, see, hear or get out of bed to pee, and frankly I don’t see the point of being here?”

This morning I went to a conclave of community visitors, whose (volunteer) job it is to go see some lonely old person and cheer them up. Or something like that, although the gist of the morning’s pep talk was that it was ‘to help them find spiritual meaning in their lives’. Afterwards we went to lunch together and were discussing the sometimes difficult task of getting your visitee to talk. Understandably, stuck in an old person’s home, there’s often either nothing to talk about, or the person has dementia, or, because they’re depressed, they have nothing to say. Except…that. So anyway, one of the ladies at my table made the above remark.

So I said – pursuing a line of thought I’ve had for quite some time – “Well the problem is our lack of control over death, isn’t it? We’re basically saying to old people, we can’t kill you, and you can’t kill yourself, so no matter how bad it gets, you just have to put up with it.”

At which point my friend sitting next to me started to wave frantically – basically a signal to shut up – so I added, “Not that I’d say that, of course,” and let the subject drop. It is perhaps true though that there are two choices for the unhappy elderly, and one of them isn’t. To stay on the merry go round and make the best of it (find spiritual meaning, cheer up, stay drunk all the time…) or to get off. Personally I’d really like to have a pill in a locked cabinet so if I felt like it at any point I could just quietly leave the cinema. Maybe I’d have to have a brief interview with ChatGPT first, to confirm that my decision wasn’t simply the result of a bad day (‘Oh bugger it the dog’s peed on the rug again and my herpes has flared up!’). Also, personally, if I said something like the above to my community visitor, I’d like him or her to reply something like “Yeah, I hear you. It sucks.” Not, “Well there’s always God…or bingo on Wednesdays?”

The lady who was giving the pep talk was an Anglican priest and so she kept dropping in stuff like, “And I think religion is hard wired into all of us, isn’t it, even though we may not believe…”, or “We are all spiritual beings…” Being an argumentative atheist, I got quite cross about this and later said to my lunch companion, “What IS spirituality? How do you define it?”

Is it believing in something supernatural above and beyond humankind? Is it having a higher purpose, the ‘we’re all here for a reason’ thing? Is it just finding meaning in whatever it is one finds meaning in – the delightfulness of dogs, the joy of slamming down a winning point at the dinner table, being able to laugh at your siblings’ expense because you love them? Or – and this is completely irrelevant – should there be more hallucinogenic drugs handed out in nursing homes?

For what it’s worth, my lunch companion didn’t seem to know what spirituality actually consists of, but seemed quite attached to the concept anyway.

Here are some free books, among them my new short story collection City of Stone. I recommend Michael Martin’s The Rainmaker in particular – I’ll be posting a review/rant about that soon. It’s about a brilliant young female engineer’s attempt to save the starving masses of a fictional African country through irrigation, and female friendship and…well, like I said, I’ll write about it soon.

Photo by Nate on Unsplash



  1. I want that pill also. I want to be able to decide when my life is no longer worth living and be able to put an end to it. I have no desire to put myself or my family through those final horrible months (or years). I’ll never understand why we make this illegal.

    As for that Anglican priest … I just absolutely hate that perspective. I probably would have either said something to her or got up and walked out.

    1. It would give one peace of mind, I think. Some people think that being alive has got to be worth it, no matter what. I prefer the Viking perspective: die with a joke and all your wounds in the front.

      1. I want to die under the terms of my choosing and not on some archaic, religious-based view on the value of human life. Because, let’s be honest, a lot of the limitation in this area is based on Judeo-Christian beliefs.

      2. Yes, absolutely. I’m reminded of the ancient Greek story of the old man whose two sons won their respective events at the Olympics or whatever. Die now, the crowd shouted. Ie it can’t get any better than this. I probably have the story garbled but it’s a completely different attitude to death

  2. If there’s an argumentative atheist’s club sign me up. Hard-wired religion my gluteus maximus. And a while back I decided I’d only vote for a candidate who supported assisted dying; don’t care if it’s the frogs for spawn party or Numpties are us, they get my vote.

    1. Especially if they’re called Numpties are us. Yeah, it’s an interesting observation that the more developed the country, in general, the less religious the people. Religion seems to have more to do with poverty and ignorance than with wiring.

  3. I recall my 100 year old grandmother remarking to me with a kind of monologish bewilderment that she couldn’t figure out why she was still alive. This was when I’d visit every few months, nursing home towards the end. A strange feeling, because it was not as though she wished death; she suffered less than many. It was more a long-etched baffle over what there was to actually do or aim at.

    She made to two months shy of 102.

    Can a person merely will themself to die? Complicated question, as I think about it.

    I was thinking something that I would offer your old person, were I king. A very young child visiting, sitting on the foot of the bed, and singing a nursery rhyme.

    1. I think we’d all like something different, in that circumstance. Me, drugs. I’ve never done drugs and honestly, the right time for it does seem to be in my nineties, possibly while demented. I don’t think you can will yourself to die. But losing the will to live can kill you. People stop eating, for instance, I’ve seen it.

  4. Strange that the Anglican priest thinks we’re hard-wired for religion when her religion tells us that we’re hard-wired for sin. That means that either the doctrine of Original Sin is wrong, or her personal belief is wrong, or claims about “hard wiring” are uninformative. Or all three.

    Personally, I want to stretch my life out as long as possible. I have too much to do, and have spent too much time not doing it. So I want as many second and third chances as possible. The question is whether I’ll be able to do what I want to do in the distant future. If not, perhaps I’d want that pill, but right now, the thought is inconceivable.

    1. All I know is, I’m not hard wired for religion. Don’t want one, don’t need one. In terms of life, and pills, I do at least want to finish the novel I’m working on, and then make sure my daughter is alright. So no plans to depart immediately. I’d like the pill as backup, the way you’d get uncomfortable if you went to see a movie and they locked all the exits. I’ve seen enough drawn out death in life old age experiences to want a quick get out of jail card option.

  5. I enjoyed your post very much. Here in the USA, depression in the elderly, which seems perfectly normal, is treated with antidepressants and psychotherapy if warranted. The elderly are supposed to be happy, no matter how much they suffer, and never complain. I would be depressed, too, if I couldn’t see, hear, or hold my urine; had nothing to look forward to but death; and lived among a bunch of other people just like me.

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