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Hope, Despair, and Death

As one ages and becomes permanently debilitated one loses hope in getting better, of ever getting rid of the pain, of ever getting back to the original Quality of Life. Simultaneously there is so little time left to get to learn to cope with the pain and to accept living this life of poor quality. Life without hope can make one virtually dead and waiting for death as a relief. As we all will get old sometime, we should now, while we are still able to see what we can do to make the Quality of Life of the aged worth living.

This makes it important for us to learn to understand how the behaviour of outsiders can help or destroy the hope and the dignity of the elderly. It has become clear that while they will be grateful for your help when needed, they can get totally discouraged when treated like a child who is unable to think or do anything for itself. Often people who have physical disabilities are treated as if they are mentally deficient. This is not only a problem with the elderly, but also with young disabled people. Any condescending tone or name calling (e.g. "come on 'Deary', let's go the bathroom") can be quite devastating and result in the loss of hope of ever regaining control over their life.

But it is not only the elderly who can experience despair, who can lose their hope their will to live. Anyone at any age, when beaten badly enough by others or by the environment can get to a point where there is a perception that there is no way out of a bad situation. There is no book that has better described the struggle between despair and the human spirit than Viktor E. Frankl's book 'Man's Search for Meaning' which was written about people surviving the holocaust during WWII. Not all of us have that strength, that spirit to elevate us out of the perceived hopelessness of a situation.

The help from others can be invaluable to lift our spirits and to turn a suicidal mood into renewed hope. Compassion, or love, combined with insight and faith can break through in our darkest hour. But this may need to be supported by action, by material assistance, where words alone are not enough to restore the situation. Social workers are living this daily, finding themselves struggling with the meager resources of their wards.

Where all hope is abandoned, death becomes a friend. One cannot understand suicide unless one understands despair. Where suicide seems unreasonable, one needs to research the cause for despair of the person. One needs to find the perception of hopelessness, of lack of self worth and of self confidence, of lack of love. Love and compassion are a two-way street. Even the most desperate person can turn around if there is only a glimmer of a possibility that (s)he can help another. Loving can make one feel loved, compassion can make one feel worthwhile and restore one's self respect. The greater the need the closer we can become and the more social we must be. Yet, we are lost forever if we close ourselves off from our neighbours under the same desperate circumstances. Together we may survive, alone we may perish.

A person in a state of despair will die. Elderly who give up hope will not live long. Younger stronger people will develop cancer or another terminal illness that will kill them. We don't need poison. Suicide is often not needed, unless . . . we are artificially keeping an almost dead person alive by so-called life-support. In our zealousness of keeping people alive, we often extend suffering beyond reason. We have a callous disregard for nature and people's wishes. We call it 'murder' if we let nature take it toll. We need to have our ethics re-examined. This becomes even more ludicrous when dealing with people, who are clinically dead. That is with people who are brain dead, while the heart is still pumping. There is no life, certainly no Quality of Life. That is the time to let go, and to have the body or its parts reused for other people's real survival.

Yet, many people opt for suicide. Just as desperate young girls may opt for an abortion. Why do they do it? Isn't it because there is no safety net? Because society seems to have rejected them. Because they perceive that there is no more hope that life will get better. It is not enough for us to make suicide or abortion illegal if we don't provide the environment where these people can live in dignity. The 'loss of face' is not only unbearable in the Far East. There are many instances that we feel exactly the same. It drives us to despair and to suicide. Our religions are too judgmental and lack compassion to help those that are at the edge. Psychiatry fails as it tries to cure people with drugs. Psychology fails as it cannot go beyond understanding. It seems that it is too big for us all. Why is compassion so hard?

It is love, faith and hope that keeps one going through pain and setbacks. Without any of these three, it is very hard to maintain any semblance to Quality of Life.