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Death Rather Than a Loss of Independence


A walk on the sidewalk near my home would prove to be more than just a refreshing day out of doors in a brisk winter. I'd walked around this area many times before, but today would be different. Today I would stumble across information most


disturbing. An innocent talk about a shopping cart took off in ways I or the stranger never intended. The stranger was, in fact, a woman who lived in this large complex. Stopping me to ask about a shopping cart she had seen I use, the talk began to open up another area; an elderly, 94-year-old woman in the area.

I'd seen her walking in the roadway, half bent over from severe spinal problems, pushing a small cart containing her meager groceries. Moved by the troubling sight, I stepped into the road and offered to help her up onto the sidewalk. My concern was that the buses and cars driving much too carelessly through the complex would strike her.

Abruptly, she turned to me and without a trace of a smile or a word of thanks, she pushed me away, cursing in a low voice. I was


stunned and stood there in disbelief. Questioning myself, I thought perhaps I had not been gentle enough or had chosen the wrong words, but that wasn't the case at all. The woman valued her independence, no matter her disability, and she scorned help as a sign of limitation, which she would not permit.

I soon learned to hold my thoughts of helping in check when I saw after that as, once or twice, she came across my path. Frankly, it tugged at my heartstrings, but I understood and I honored her wishes. But I would be alone in that wish to honor her independence; her health was declining.

The months went by, neighbors complained of an odor of gas in the building. The gas came from her apartment where she had forgotten that she left the jets on. Too many times, they were called to her small apartment and their tolerance wore thin as the neighbors' alarm heightened. They shut her gas off.

Nights were not times of quiet for the neighbors. The woman remained active all night long, banging around her home, playing her radio loudly because of her hearing impairment. A nuisance of another type was now evident.There was no agreement with her regarding her need to move about more quietly.

Neighbors began to alert the management office that water was constantly running; they could hear it. Inspections of her apartment revealed that she hadn't shut the water off in her tub. The water overflowed, swamping the bathroom floor, flowing out into the living room and seeping down into apartments below.

The time had come for more muscular measures and it was deemed that she would need to be moved to a supervised living situation. The woman protested more than verbally. Nights were now filled with loud noises as she slammed and shattered the walls with pans, threw her heavy metal apartment door open and closed throughout the night and generally vented her anger. She was not going to leave.

The authorities were insistent; she could not live alone and she could not remain in her apartment. She would be moved with or without her consent.

The day before she would be physically moved, she prepared her


response. Dressing carefully in her finest clothes, she ran a bath and did not turn the water off. Neighbors quickly called the maintenance office when, during the early morning hours, the water came pour into their apartments. They thought it was starting all over again. But they were wrong.

She was found there, in the tub, where she had drowned herself. Independence was her only reason for living and, if she could not have that, there was no reason for living. Her final fate was in her frail hands.

#independence #elderly #livingarrangements #supervisedliving #suicide

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PO Box 761, Tenafly, NJ 07670

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DR. PATRICIA A. FARRELL