“My children want us to move to an assisted living but I don’t want to. I would rather keep on like this as long as I can” uttered a much older friend at a recent gathering, the resentment palpable in her thin voice. “They find the time to roam around the world but they can’t spare a week-end to visit their parents” she trails off. She had just given us details of her ailing husband, whom she nurses with a Filipino helper and how she feels caged in her home, often unable to go out and lead a life we would take for granted. Still, it was preferable to the option of checking into a fancy facility and relinquish all duties, her home and a routine she has come to resent and cherish at the same time.
My generation has reached the age when taking care of our parents becomes just another activity to juggle within our schedule or to tackle as we would a work problem. The social contract changed long ago: most of us don’t live in small “tribes” of extended families, where children are taken care of by the community and elders can still feel valued.
If we have the financial means, more often than not, we push our parents to check out “assisted living facilities”, once commonly known as “retirement homes”, with amenities that vary from bingo to gourmet meals, swimming pools and gyms or Sunday outings. I can’t help but look at them as fancy places to go die in, hotels where the check out date typically coincides with the arrival of a wooden box.
Letting somebody else take care of the dying seems the easier solution in our busy lives of demanding jobs, child rearing and whatnot. Nobody dies at home anymore when it was once a rarity not to. Having children doesn’t mean somebody will be there to take care of you when the time comes as the job is fobbed off to kind immigrants or state of the art facilities. For the lucky ones.
Childless or not, the best solution has always seemed to me a “village” of friends, people whom we have known for a long time and we trust, we can bicker and live along with in our sunset years. I envisage a large house where groups of people have pooled their resources, pay for some help when needed and argue around the card table or the rose bushes. People who understand what getting old means – it sucks, and we might as well go out partying.