by Cindy Hasz
American Reporter Correspondent
San Diego, Calif.
July 8, 2002
NAMING THE MONSTERS UNDER THE BED
SAN DIEGO -- I am very glad I have a twisted sense of humor to lighten life's dark corners. It will stand me in good stead as I face old age. Those who lack it experience their slow and inevitable process of disintegration as something resembling the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
I think of one of my friends in particular.
For her, being in a place where walkers line the halls outside the dining rooms is very disturbing. Being in a dining room where someone coughs so hard their dentures fly out into the mashed potatoes gives no rise to mirth.
Unerringly, she will find the fly in every ointment, the pea under every mattress. She finds the daily, constant reminders of frailty and declining health repulsive. She nearly howls when she catches a glimpse of herself in my sideview mirror as we drive down the street. She can't believe that old looking woman is her. She is 80 and cannot, will not accept it.
It is sad to me to see the anguish she causes herself. I know that in acceptance lies the road to peace and yet she never seems to weary of her existential tantrums.
I've had other patients who deny reality in much quieter and much more thorough but pathological ways.
Marcella and Minerva were the most distressed elder patients I ever known. They were unrelated except that they shared a nursing home and a common belief system. It was a belief system that reasoned away anything supposedly negative, like sickness or death.
When their denials of the grim realities of aging wore thin they had people come in to sandbag their fragile worldviews with prayers and incantations of all things bright and beautiful. After the practitioners left and the hours wore on, the pain (which both suffered) would prove too much to bear and they'd ask for medication. On top of struggling with their pain, they'd then be left with an avalanche of guilt at having failed to live up to the dictates of their inhuman faith.
I hated what it did to them.
By the end of their lives these two women seemed to be consumed by that which they denied. The particular light they had embraced offered them little understanding and even less comfort. They felt deeply betrayed by it all, no doubt, but couldn't admit it. To offload some of her psychic toxins one became mea, and the other lost herself in hallucinations. Her fears quite literally became animals under her bed.
She didn't need people to tell her they weren't really there. She needed people to help her face and name her fears.
In comparison, my friend who rants and raves nearly constantly about everything seems healthy. Conjuring up catastrophes by the day, she throws herself into the jaws of some final conflict. It's almost like dress rehearsals for the same play, over and over again.
Her outrage at the indignities of life, her raging against the advancing darkness she sees everywhere, speak to me somehow. She says out loud what I only think and feel. Her deep vulnerability and unabashed honesty endears her to me.
She is so very, very scared - not so much of dying, she says, but of living. That is a fear most of us understand. Just admitting it to someone can let in a little sunshine.
Cindy Hasz is a nurse and writer living in San Diego. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org