Masochistic Perceptions, Trials and Truths

These are my cyberfied cerebral synapses ricocheting off reality as I perceive it: thoughts, opinions, passions, rants, art and poetry...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Living to Live

There was a very disturbing murder-suicide just south of my city earlier this week. This statement is perhaps a bit weak as there is no un-disturbing murder-suicide unless one is talking about a couple of insane killers or something.

Anyway the case this past week involved a 94 year old man and his 80 something wife. Basically, the man was no longer capable of taking care of his wife, who was suffering from dementia, and they were going to be separated by each going into a home for the elderly. So, the man shot his wife and then himself.

We have truly let these people down as a society. First of all, it is appalling that separation of these two soul mates was their only living alternative. Secondly, and I know this is a very touchy subject, but not having a more humane way for these people to end their lives is troubling. My first point should be easy enough to remedy, the latter, however, is one that we will never be able to agree with as a whole society – my own thoughts on this are difficult to formulate or to find any coherency, let alone being able to suggest an answer for all.

I love life and have no desire to cease living. That being said, I feel very strongly about life. In my opinion, life is a purely qualitative thing, yet many focus solely on the quantitative side of living (the same could be said of life v. possessions). For me, I want to live as long as I am able to experience living. My definition of living is the ability to derive intense pleasure, and not being in intense pain or suffering from mental deficits (well, no more than I already do!). If I am 80 and able to do reasonable things like play chess, read, get out and about, etc., then I will still have a strong desire for life. On the other hand, if I'm suffering from chronic pain or deteriorating from a terminal illness, unable to focus on things like reading and music or am house ridden, then the time will come to no longer be.

I've had a few relatives diagnosed with terminal illnesses. I remember one Uncle in particular dying of cancer. His last six months were hell, yet they continued to give him chemo, tap fluid from his lungs, and keep him alive through oxygen and IV's. He was unable to go out, and existed with a sharp mind, though gasping with each breath (and, for the record, he was 65 when he finally succumbed and, until his illness, was a healthy, active man who never drank or smoked). If there was a way that I could have ended his suffering, I would have done so. Likewise, I hope if ever I am in such a situation, that someone would show me such mercy.

In the end, life is a lottery. We never know when our time is up. I lost two friends this summer, one through a motorcycle accident, the other from disease – both 40 or younger. I know folks who seem to break all the rules of healthy living and are going strong (my Father-in-law is healthy as a horse at 70, loves his rich food, pipe and wine), some in old age and very active, while there are other friends I know who have lived to the letter of health, but ended up with cancer – some made it, while others did not. So, even though we think we have answers to living long and healthy lives, there is obviously no guarantee.

Bearing this in mind, we must then focus on the quality of our lives – and this is very subjective. In pursuit of this, we must be responsible and accept the possible risks of the things we choose to undertake. For example, I spent the afternoon today bouldering at a local climbing gym. By doing this, I know that I will have hamburger hands at the end of the day, and I also know that I could slip and fall, break a bone, end up in a wheel chair or even dead. I know the risks and I choose to accept them as this is something I enjoy doing and I protect myself to the best of my ability when climbing. Same applied during my years of playing Rugby. I feel every injury and hit today, but would I change a thing? No.

You can apply this manner of thinking to everything we choose to do, or not to do, in our lives. For example, if a person chooses to smoke because they enjoy it, then there is nothing wrong with this. Education tells us all from an early age that smoking can be hazardous to one's health. Therefore, by smoking, one accepts that it could kill them, leave them short of breath and cost a lot of money over one's life. As well, one choosing to smoke must also be responsible in assuring that no one else will be subjected to it. The same applies to drinking. If one indulges, one can anticipate the hangover. One must also ensure that, by indulging, that they will not create acts of violence or put others in danger. When I drink, I am very mellow and happy. I had an uncle who drank and became violent (i.e. when I was 13 he held a loaded shot-gun to my head for half an hour or so).

Now some might be quick to point out: "what about one's friends and family?" when deciding to do something hazardous. There is validity in this question. For example, is it fair for one to do something that might be harmful (i.e. smoking, sky diving, alligator wrestling) to themselves if the repercussions might affect one's personal community of family and friends? I suppose, though rather flippantly, I would respond that life is hazardous, period. Each time we go out of our homes we risk getting hit by a drunk driver, mugged by and addict or slipping on the ice. Each time we drive our car, we risk a collision. Each time we eat, there is a degree of ugliness to our food that detrimentally affects our bodies. Our air contains toxins. In the end, it would drive you silly if you really begin to dissect all the detrimental factors in our environment.

Again, please don't think that I am condoning everything. For example, things like drug use can never be a responsible choice as one is supporting the entire criminal dynamic and engaging in unknown behaviours due to the nature of the narcotic. The same can be said about drinking and driving, or walking around, brandishing weapons or perpetrating assaults. It is the notion of this free-for-all that makes the second point stated in the third paragraph of this missive so difficult, as the propensity for abuse or perverse agendas is very possible, given the darker side of human nature.

In the end, all I want to push forward as my main idea is that we need to live every moment to its fullest extent. In living, we must do so consciously and responsibly. Live long and live well. Be responsible but do not live so conservatively that you are merely existing. Try to be peaceful and ensure that what you decide to do is not selfish and at the expense of others, but, on the same hand, remember to respect the rights of others to conduct their lives in the way in which they choose. The end idea is to be happy, and, in pursuing this, our intents should be pleasurable and good.




  • At 3:44 p.m. , Blogger Andrew Louis said...

    This is interesting because there are two perspectives here; you seem to be taking the perspective of overall humanity in evaluating this, and of course there’s nothing wrong with that. Of course that perspective leads one to the conclusion that this event was disturbing, horrible, so on and so forth. However, my first thought was, “How romantic.” Which on the one hand probably sounds awful for me to say, but then there’s another perspective here, which is they’re perspective. This man wasn’t going to live without his wife and as a result they both became martyrs to each other; it’s almost Shakespearian in a way, tragic, yet lovely, honorable, respectable.

    I’d probably do the same thing.

    Would you rather like to imagine them living together in some assisted living home having they’re diapers changed by some loathing orderly nurse? Do you feel sorry for them, feel sorry for you, or feel sorry for society?
    I’m being rhetorical here of course.

  • At 3:52 p.m. , Blogger Andrew Louis said...

    I always like to say somewhat sarcastically; once I loose the ability to maintain proper bowel function, take me out back and shoot me. We have a tendency of thinking there’s something wrong with that because of some illusion of dignity; but don’t we always say to boxer, “It’s time to hang up the gloves.”? Sometimes there’s dignity in it, but other times you get a guy that just can’t quit, so as a result makes a mockery out of who he is and who he used to be. Where’s the dignity in that?

    This story here is the last act of power this guy ever had in life, and if it hadn’t been for the fact that they were going to be separated, he vary well may have died alone in a diaper. Which is more dignified? I’d rather have made the conscious choice myself….

    Mind you I’m simply trying to take the other side.

  • At 8:07 p.m. , Blogger Minister of the Masochistic Truth said...

    Though I agree that there was a macabre romantic aspect to this case, what truly disturbs me is the brutality of the final act. About 8 years ago, an uncle of mine, who thought he had mouth cancer, shot himself with a shotgun in his garage. He was in his late - eighties, and it was his wife of 50 years who found him. Not the same, I know, as the case mentioned in my piece, but, again, it adds to the debate about the right to die with dignity (incidentally, he did not have mouth cancer). Imagine, the last sight of your wife of umpteen years being that of a head exploding with a bullet. Even if you only lived mere seconds afterward... I don't know... it's just something that feels wrong to me. It's so violent, but, in the end, I suppose that is merely an asthetic statement relating to those who discovered the bodies (the couple's kids I believe it was).

    To answer your question, I feel sorry for both them and society. We should have some sort of a humane way to end life, but, as I suggested in my piece, this can be very dangerous.

    There was a case of a farmer in Saskatchewan about a decade ago named Robert Latimer. He had a severly disabled child who required many painful surgeries and was in a state of perpetual suffering. So, Latimer took his daughter, hooked the exhaust up from his truck into the cab and killed her out of love. Latimer was convicted of 2nd degree murder.

    In my opinion, this was an ultimate demonstration of a Father's love and acting as he saw fit. Add to that, I believe that the medical community are the criminals for allowing Tracey, his daughter, to live in the first place as there is no way she would have survived on her own. Though not a threat to society, I can understand why Latimer had to be convicted as to do otherwise would have been giving a carte blanche and setting a very dangerous precedent.

    But seriously, how do we handle things like this as a society? Even hypothetically these are impossible questions to answer and can only be truly understood by those definitely involved in the situation. I agree with you 100% that if I'm wasting away in my own shit, someone shoot me! Ideally, I would rather have another method to end my life that would at least allow my family to say good bye. I know such places exist in Europe. It's just such a difficult call.

  • At 5:43 a.m. , Blogger Catvibe said...

    Your ending commentary here reminds me of that movie Soilent Green where, and it's been 30 years since I saw the film, someone goes into a room to die toward the end and lies on the table in a room which is all screens, so it looks like he's in a beautiful forest, and then he's given the death dose and drifts off into oblivion. (Only to be ground up and made into food:-) Was the uncle who shot himself the same one who held a shotgun to your head? What a horrific and frightening 30 minutes that must have been, with long term ramifications! Yikes!

  • At 12:04 p.m. , Blogger Minister of the Masochistic Truth said...


    No, this was a diffferent Uncle - a very sober and gentle man.

    As far as long term ramifications, I have been treated for PTSD. Much of it extends from the psychological abuse experienced as a child, but it climaxed with the many insane experiences I had in prison as an Officer.

    That being said, I think these things made me into the peaceful person that I am. Being a Correctional Officer was about as intense chameleon experience that I can imagine as I was already into Yoga and Buddhism before I started that. I suppose that I was a voice of calm and compassion, but I also did the job as it needed to be done which ranged to extreme violence and force. Our resilancy and adaptive prowess is amazing, but not without consequences.

    In the end, however, we are products of our experiences, so we must see the good, even in the traumatic...

  • At 3:03 p.m. , Blogger Catvibe said...

    Wow...I can't even imagine what that all must have been like for you. Congratulations on maintaining your sanity! I see you play the guitar, I know music is great for what ails you.
    And on a tangent, are you Scottish? (Making assumptions from your pictures). Me too, my great grandfather was a Robertson from Struan before they moved to, I believe, Edmonton or a nearby town, then off to Victoria where my father was born. Seems a great many Scottish folks immigrated to Canada en masse.

  • At 7:24 p.m. , Blogger Minister of the Masochistic Truth said...

    ...sanity is relevant - after all I do teach jr. high special needs kids!

    My linage is largely Irish, with a wee bit of Scottish and German thrown in for good measure. Growing up in Nova Scotia (Latin for New Scotland), one can't help but have some Celtic influences. I was the bass drummer in a Pipe Band for years, and I also did a Celtic radio show at the Dalhousie University radio station, CKDU-FM (my co-host - one of the top Pipers in the world - still does the show - I think it's on at 6 or 7pm Atlantic time and you can catch it on-line. It's called "Irish Eddie and the Highland Gac"). A lot of folks don't realise that Gaelic was the main language spoken in the eastern part of Nova Scotia until the early 1960's and boasts the only Gaelic College in the world!

    Anyway, I began playing the bodhran in pub sessions in my 20's (and also lived in Dublin for a while), then took up mandolin. On a visit to a friend, just before I was to be married 13 years ago, my mandolin got smashed by an over zealous lad with a trumpet in the overhead compartment on the flight (I wasn't aware of the damage until a day later). Feeling sorry for me, my friend bought me a guitar as my "wedding present", and I've been playing it ever since. I also play a wee bit of the Irish tin whistle and banjo.

    Music really does soothe the soul. Though I do occasionally delve into my punk rock days, for the most part I play traditional and not-so-traditional Irish stuff (anything from the Dubliners to bands like the Pogues, Tossers, Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphys, etc.).

    How's that for a long winded reply to a tangent (I love digressions as you can tell).

    So you have Canadian roots as well (via Scotland)?


  • At 9:43 p.m. , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    sounds fine but please do not shoot me! .. signed your wife (fer)


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home