We need to be able to visualise death, to understand its various stages, its unpredictability, our personal role in determining how we die to some extent, and with whom. Judith Leeson AM shares her views on COVID-19.
Waiting for the dark COVID-19 thunderstorm to break has been a rather unnerving experience for us all in Australia, and one where many of us became anxious when the storm would come, leaving havoc in its wake. We have experienced a sense of fear and loss of control over our lives; many decisions we had made for our immediate future became untenable, and plans were frozen in time and space.
As an octogenarian, with more than six decades of service to the community in education, disability, career development, counselling, and re-imagining ageing, I have reflected on some of the elements of how we make decisions in good times, and in bad.
We make hundreds of decisions every day, using our values and sense of purpose as a filter, taking responsibility for our words and actions, and generally accepting the consequences. We gather information from many sources including discussion, research, reading, experience and social media, we seek opinions from our friends and from professionals; we sometimes check whether it’s reliable and accurate, and then we are able to categorise what is actually under our control, influencing our decision, and what is not. That sounds simple, but of course as we are human, it is not necessarily so.
Our lives are shaped by love and loss, and how we respond to both. During my lifetime in my childhood family and the one created by my husband and me, we have experienced both. Love has helped us to thrive, but loss has shaped our values and our characters and provided us with many unwelcome lessons from which we have learned much.
Nearly twenty years ago we experienced a financial disaster in our business, accompanied by personal tragedy, which resulted in a decision to sell our family home, near Flinders University, close down our City office, and finally relocate to a small, secluded cottage on a rural property in Adelaide Hills. A major decision, where we relied on our research from the preceding ten years and then were presented with an opportunity not to be missed. Generally, people thought that we were mad, and should have bought into a residential compound for older people who may need extra support.
We worked from home until recently and spent our spare time for the first 14 years replacing the antique barbed wire fences and ensuring that we were reasonably self-sufficient in water. We established a large vegetable and house garden, and optimistically established a small orchard, and birch and oak tree groves.
All of these decisions and actions were well-informed, inside our control and capabilities, and we have enjoyed a simple and more sustainable life, but the cumulative impact of drought, climate change, bushfires, and in my case, declining physical capabilities, have had a considerable impact.
Do we now question our previous decisions, as the COVID-19 virus is already changing how we make decisions, plan for an unknown future, and respond to global changes beyond our control? No, we are immensely grateful for the opportunities we identified earlier that enabled us to live a life more closely aligned with our values and our priorities.
We have lived an extremely satisfying, self-directed life, but now we want to make decisions about what our lives would be if we are no longer in control of the basic elements of daily living and medical interventions should either of us contract this deadly virus.
We appreciate the wonderful work being undertaken in preparing professionals for their critical roles in a pandemic but we, as consumers and family members, need more information and scientific evidence to guide our decision-making and we need it now. COVID-19 does not leave people with much time to be able to make informed decisions in the acute phase.
Judith Leeson AM