Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Q = Quality vs Quantity

I’ve been thinking about endings a bit lately. My father had a very difficult one. Unconscious after days of pain and distress, anxiety and hallucinations. Death truly came as a final release. Lengthening his life span would not have given him any quality of life, only quantity.

But his life was one of quality. It wasn’t an easy life, in any way. He worked so hard, but he knew when to enjoy himself too. And I am so proud of him. I am in many ways especially proud of the way he and my mother handled retirement. They saw it as their reward for having worked so hard for so long, having scrimped and saved for their entire lives. It was their time, time together without children, time to relax, time to enjoy life. It was wonderful to see. They travelled the world, despite having to wait until my father was 62 to leave the country. They travelled throughout New Zealand and did it as cheaply as possible, these old age pensioners in their tents or cabins. My father loved meeting up with international travellers in the camping ground kitchens, and would always strike up conversation and find out all about them. He bought a Lada four-wheel drive, and drove it everywhere. That old Lada, without power steering or any mod-cons, took him off-road, away on fishing trips up remote rivers in the Mackenzie country, it took him duck-shooting and white-baiting, and regularly to golf. It gave him freedom, and he used it.

I compare his life to that of another elderly gentleman in my life, who has now had four more years of life than my dad. He too worked hard, raised his family well, was a responsible and respected member of the community. In contrast however, he saw retirement as the end of his productive life. He felt useless, cast on the rubbish heap, and he brooded, and became depressed. Unlike my dad, he had the financial means to do whatever he wanted, and the education and experience to be able to contribute and remain active in the community if he so desired. But his life these last 20 years has been one of quantity (not that he is happy about that either), not quality. He is the only reason he is not happy. And he doesn’t seem to know how to be. Nothing we say really seems to help. Fortunately, he can afford the best medical treatment, as he has needed this. But he doesn’t appreciate his extra quantity of life, and doesn’t really make any effort to improve it in terms of quality.

I find it very sad. But there's a lesson in it too.


  1. One of my first reactions, when reading this, was "I wish my parents were like that." That's not necessarily a good thing to feel, but my parents have never been outdoorsy or active. I had to discover those worlds on my own.

    When I read about your other friend, the words of a They Might Be Giants song popped into my head: "Now it's over, I'm dead, and I still haven't done anything that I want, or I'm still alive and there's nothing I want to do."

  2. I'm glad your parents got to enjoy their retirement (and very sorry that your father's death was not a peaceful one).

    I find it hard to read about people who lose interest in life when they retire. I just don't understand it. The world is so full of wonders and need...

  3. I know so many like this--both my grandfathers, in fact. Just didn't know what to do with themselves.

  4. i often think we've come to focus too much on length of life, and not on living it.


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