Last week, the Washington Post published a short article about how Japan has recently set a new record for the number of people in their country who are over 100 years old.
“The ministry announced Friday that the number of Japanese citizens who were older than 100 had risen to reach 69,785. Of that number, more than 88 percent are women.”
While my first thought is that it’s an amazing miracle that the average life span is going up, up, up, the reality of actually living longer lives brings up lots of questions and issues our modern societies don’t quite know how to deal with.
In America, I don’t think it’s a controversial thing to say that we’re not very good at getting old. In my mind it’s because we don’t really know how to do it yet. We don’t have enough models to show us how it’s done — or we haven’t had them long enough. What’s the best case scenario for quality of life at 80+? What can we expect, or what should we be aiming for, as far as mobility, independence, and activity levels go? I’m not sure we have the answers to those questions yet.
I also think it’s hard to get older in America because we have a culture that worships youth, and disdains aging. We often don’t look to the oldest among us for advice and wisdom, and instead, almost expect them to stay out of the conversation after a certain age.
My mother in law is in her 80’s and still has a busy, active life. She teaches classes, takes classes, travels, hosts weekly gatherings, and lives independently. I think the hardest challenge for her is the idea of not being able to drive, and the loss of independence that would bring. A few years ago, she had a major medical issue and almost died. It was awful. After that experience, she made clear she didn’t want future lifesaving measures. She told me bluntly, “There are worse things than dying.”
In my congregation, there are a several women in the over-80 age range. Most of their husbands have passed away. I believe all but one no longer have jobs. Their own children are becoming grandparents. And they’re open about sometimes feeling like they’ve been forgotten. As I talk with them, I can’t help but ask myself: What sort of life do I want when I’m over 80? What will it look like? What could it look like?
In Japan, they revere the aged — it would probably be a pretty great place to live past 100. But even there, there are issues. In Japan, they currently don’t have enough babies being born, and the worry is the new generation won’t be big enough or have enough earning power to support the aging population.
Did you see the movie Crazy Rich Asians? I loved it! It takes place in Singapore, and it seems like maybe they have a similar respect for aging that Japan has. One of the things that I loved in the movie was the role of the white-haired grandmother, played by Chinese actress Lisa Lu (pictured above), and how much she was respected and honored. Is that the best case scenario? Growing older, surrounded by offspring who still look to your for advice and approval?
Thinking about this stuff made me curious. Do you have an ideal age you’d like to live to? Did you grow up with a grandmother or grandfather in your house? Do you expect you’ll live in a retirement community someday? What do you think the “retirement age” will be when you eventually retire? Or will the concept of retirement sort of disappear? Do you have fears about aging? (I think the biggest aging-fear of mine is dementia.) Do you think we’ll get better at aging as our life span continues to increase? How long do you want to live?
45 thoughts on “How Long do You Want to Live?”
I have a lot of relatives who have lived into their late-80s and 90s. I currently have three living grandparents- both of my grandpas are 86 and my grandma is 85- who are all in decent health and living independently in their homes. My paternal grandpa even still works and recently completed several online courses to keep up his real estate license! His wife (not my grandma by birth but most definitely my grandma in all other ways) passed away just last week of cancer. She was 10 years younger, and we’re all a bit worried about him living alone- he’s in good enough health, but we worry about him being alone should something happen and managing a large house and property on his own. His mom lived to be nearly 100 (she was just three months shy), and all of his siblings are still alive and doing well.
We have many long-lived relatives on either side – my 85/91 year old grandparents are still living in their home self-sufficient. My husband’s grandmother lived to be nearly 100. My other grandmother was in her 90s when she passed from a heart condition. As someone almost 40, it drives home the need to eat better (dump sugar to prevent dementia!) and exercise more so I can be active and healthy into my 90s. I’d love to be part of a senior living community someday in a gorgeous location (mountains or national park nearby). Thinking and planning for a healthy long life is different than my grandparents, who expected to die in their 60s like their parents did (and then didn’t). I think about this a lot because our family doesn’t live near one another and providing “elder care” is hard from many hours away. At the same time, I also think about how important my retirement account and health care is now for the future.
I think you are right about our society not seeking input and advice from the elderly. They have lived through so much change. So often and wrongfully so, I think we underestimate their ability to contribute meaningfully to our issues in our high tech, fast paced lives.
I read a billboard a few years ago along the commuter rail line outside NYC that read “The first person to live to 150 years old has already been born.” I did not catch the source but that really stuck with me! Amazing how much change we will experience in our lifetimes as well.
I hope to live to 92 years old. I believe that age will allow me to spend meaningful time with grandchildren, should I have any, and I would also like to experience our nation’s centennial celebration (2076). But, of course, health is a huge component of any desire to live any length of time.
I read your comment and thought, 2076 seems so far away! You must be much younger than me! I did the math and I am one year older :o) I never thought about living long enough to reach a specific year, usually it’s more about living long enough to do all the travel I imagine, or see certain discoveries like a cure for cancer or being blessed with grandchildren (my oldest is 4, so we have a while!). What a fun goal to shoot for, our nation’s centennial! I hope I’m there too :o)
We missed it the last time around, and I’ll bet it would be quite the party!
Yeah Joan !
I’m bummed to see that I’m likely not going to make it to the next centennial! I just did the math. But I should have realized since I remember the last one… that will put me at 108. Since our kids are 10, 8 & 4 I want to live healthy as long as possible.
I have this dream that my two best friends from high school and I will live on the same street (or the same apartment building) and we will see each other every day and take care of one another. The problem is that eventually there will only be one left. I have fewer health issues than either of them so if we all die of old age, I will probably outlive them. We are in our 40s now and live far apart, but we think we all might end up in Colorado as retirees.
My grandmother is 95, and I wouldn’t mind having her life (preferably without the emphysema and COPD, but I’ve never smoked, so cross fingers). She lives with my parents and brother and is in the middle of family, involved and never forgotten. But I’m not married and don’t have kids, so maybe I’ll move in with my siblings? There are 5 of us!
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately watching my grandparents. They are miserable. All their friends are dead, my grandmother is in constant pain from hip and knee replacements (she’s 96) and my grandfather no longer recognizes any of his children or grandchildren. Up until about five years ago they had a very active and fulfilling life, but it’s so hard watching them now, especially as my grandfather is basically gone already mentally and my grandmother has gotten very verbally abusive in her old age. On the one hand, I understand that she is taking her unhappiness out on us, but on the other, it’s very difficult to spend time with her. My mother said a few weeks ago that she felt awful for just wishing her mom would die, but…
We are going thru this currently with my husband’s grandmother. She’s had a series of strokes and even on good days, struggles with recognizing her children. It is difficult to spend time with her as she is almost unrecognizable from the sweet grandma my husband grew up with. She says it often, and I think many of the family also agree that hopefully her time will come soon. I will keep you and all other families struggling with this issue in my prayers.
Watching aging grandparents suffer and die recently, I don’t feel like there’s a whole lot to be gained over 85. With rare exceptions, one becomes a burden instead of a contributor at that point. I actually think I’d be happy to live to about 75–old enough to hopefully know my grandchildren, but then to die before dealing with all of the attendant aging/dementia issues. But my husband is almost five years older than me, so very likely I’ll be widowed at some point so my sisters and I have senior center plans together ;-)
Interesting post with interesting questions. In France (where I live) there was a book published last year called “The War of the Generations” (or something like it) which focused on the fact that (in the western world) all the rich babyboomers are getting older and that the following generations do not have the money to take care of them … which leads me to think that we have to re-think how we structure our lives on a bigger level. I.e.: I live in a seaside (seasonal tourist) town where many people move to once they go on pension, a few because their children and grand children are here, but most because it is a lovely place to live. Some years down the road these newcomers then become ‘a burden’ financially for the town, once the help they need from the public instances grow, meaning that economically it is the smaller generation that has to work harder to finance the help to the elder. On a social level more and more of these elder also finds themselves isolated in their homes once they reach an age where they are no longer comfortable leaving their homes. (Most western countries do not have the means to provide retirement homes for all, and are taking many measures so that they in the close future can help people live at home as long as possible). Again meaning that we’ll have a big group of local citizens that will be isolated in their fine houses, while all the families with small children as well as the generation after will have to run faster to provide for the care of the elder.
In France right now 1 out of five inhabitants are 60+, in 2050 it is 1 out of 3 and in the period from 2005 to 2020 it is believed to be a double up of elderly over 85. How do we as society handle this?
One way can be to build new housing that is for both young, old and families – so that we can all engage as active citizens and keep an eye out for and help each other. Another way is to make our cities livable again, so that for instance a loss of a car does not mean social isolation. Example: in a French town they had taken away the benches on the street to prevent young kids from hanging out smoking joints on them(!) and homeless people to sit on them. But this also meant that the elderly that still wanted to walk to the local neighbourhood store couldn’t, because they could not get rest along the way. After a study on how to help the elderly the benches immediately got brought back on the streets. And most imprtantly: we can engage as active cititzens in our local neighboorhood, become volunteers, stop and chat with our neighboor, be active and engaged to break the social isolation.
My Grandmother is about to turn 100.
She lived independently until 97, and is still very sparky and with it…but it looks hard work being 99. Most of her friends and contemporaries are gone, her body is getting so frail, she feels out of step with lots of modern life (although still always interested in what grandchildren/great grand children are all doing). Talking to her about her life and all that has happened over her 100 years is fascinating and educational for us all in the family though. Even little details from daily life in say 1940 are so different to what we all experience now.
If I still had a few friends around and my generation of relatives then great – healthy old age here I come, but being the only one left, with a weak, frail body, and a world that will have changed so much, that does look tough.
It depends on so much! But I think 85-90, as long as I’m relatively mobile and independent. It was very hard for my grandparents to see so many of their friends die, and for my grandmothers to be widows. My husband is 19 years older than me, so I expect I’ll likely be a fairly young widow.
My in laws: mom is 85 and bedridden, literally cannot support her own weight to sit up, is angry and has dementia, and dad 91 is losing a lot of his sight, ability to walk, and just seems frustrated 98% of the time. My mom will be 93 in a few months, has all of her mental faculties, is in a wheelchair for convenience, is in good health, and has plans to bury us all–however she is a clinical narcissist, pathological liar, and has munchausen’s, so, taking care of her is incredibly difficult. She currently lives in an independent living complex, however she has a 3 year cycle of life long constant moving which is just a means for her mental illness to manage *others*… another move is pending as I write.
As for me, I grew up thinking I would never live to see 25. Between “The Russians!”, “Nuclear Threat”, and who knows what else, I was taught that the end of times would be constantly on my horizon.
I am currently 60. I do not fear death. I love the thought of being able to have a blast with the g-kids, I want to see my adult kids grown old as well… but I counter that will the burden I may place on my family. We (husband and I) have plans in place to sell our home at a certain time, and place ourselves in assisted living that can progress to full time care if need be so that we do not force our children to make those emotionally crushing decisions.
Bottom line: From this point forward, DNR, nothing extreme, nothing costly, just let me go. I want to stick around as long as I can still paint, read, and enjoy life. Quality over quantity.
This resonates with me, PC Brown, particularly “so that we do not force our children to make those emotionally crushing decisions.” My parents are no longer living, but my in-laws are in their late-80s. My FIL still works and has a robustness of spirit that belies his age. My MIL recently lost enough vision that she is unable to drive. That has made her very isolated (more so because her husband leaves for work daily), and I see the toll it is taking on her. We have discussed, begged, implored them to downsize to a condo (or even move in with us, as we bought a house with an ample basement apartment just for this purpose!), but they are unwilling, unable to fathom leaving their multi-story home. I feel so responsible for them, but as I also have young children I then feel guilty that I am not doing more to assist. I am in the Sandwich Generation it seems.
RB, I can understand.
My advice would be to have a family gathering and insist that what is best for your parents is to do what is ACTUALLY best for them: sell ASAP and move them near or into your home. Their home will become too much for your fil to handle on his own, especially if she progresses in her ailments. You need to be as clear and blunt as possible. Let them know you actually desire to care for them IN YOUR OWN home ASAP as it is easier for you, and as such will allow you to care for your own family, *your marriage* to their son, and with them in the basement or ground level if need be, everyone would be less stressed. At some point I would flat out insist on it. Staying in their own home will eventually become too much for *all* of you.
In our case, what was once an acre of prime land with 2 homes and valued at $900k+ is now underwater with 2 mortgages and a crankload of neglect that will be too costly to cover prior to a sale… which according to the finances may be as close as next summer because the money will have been drained beyond what anyone can recoup. $900k was eaten up, not in things that would have brought them joy or memories, but in trying to keep up on a house that is too large and expensive for them. Special equipment, special reno to accommodate oxygen hoses throughout 3500sqft. Hospital bedS. Chair lifts. and on and on.
You fil could keep working and she can feel safe knowing your are within ear shot while still maintaining you own home. They need to understand that yes, you want them to feel at home in their own space, but SHE NEEDS HELP and it would be better for everyone to do that at your place. Keep their investment safe, keep his wife safe, yada yada. Your current situation is not what is best for everyone’s relationships. You will begin to resent being torn between your children and his parents – they need to understand this and you need t be strong. (My husband’s siblings decided to allow dad to make all the decisions against what they KNEW would happen, and here we are. This is KEY-> *If* they had gone into assisted living back when the family wanted them to, my mother in law would NOT be in the situation she is in now. She would be MUCH healthier. Technically, she is literally waiting to die, and will eventually drown in her own bodily fluids… a horrible way to die, and what my fil has unwittingly forced. It is not a good thing and has been going on for about 2 years.)
NO ONE wants to be happy when their parent dies… but I have heard each EACH of my in law siblings say “You know, if she went tonight it wouldn’t be too soon!”
Good luck – be firm! Do what is best for them!
what an important question you ask. I have no age in mind. I want to be alive as long as there is a sufficient amount of quality in my life. When my 82 year old mom, who had significant pain from spinal stenosis and was clinical depressed, fell and suffered a brain bleed, my siblings and I felt very comfortable providing comfort care only. Her children and grandchildren quickly gathered round her hospice bed and spent 7 days helping her transition from this life. It was a beautiful experience that I am grateful to have had. 3 years later, when my 89 year old father decided to end dialysis his children supported his decision. We understood that he no longer felt there was enough quality in his life to go on living. He was not depressed, he was simply tired and ready. Again, the family gathered round, told stories, cried, laughed and helped him transition. He died in my arms. Both of my parents spoke often and clearly of their desires for there to be no extraordinary efforts to keep them alive. We honored their wishes.
Though I am only 60, I have also been very clear with my family members that the quality of my life is far more important to me than an age. My 89 year old mother-in-law, is physically well but, a recent stroke left her with cognitive impairment. While she can take care of her daily needs she is often disoriented and confused and can no longer live independently. I am clear that if I am no longer able to take care of my daily living activities, or am no longer able to identify who I am, or where I am that I do not want to continue living. I have told my husband and children to do whatever needs to get done….while not risking going to jail!
With 2 young grandchildren, I would like to live a long life. But, I am not afraid of death and have no need to live without a minimum quality that only I can quantify. I hope that one day, our country will allow our medical professionals to support an individual’s wish to end their life. Atul Gwande’s book, Being Mortal, is an important read on this subject.
How would they risk going to jail?
One of the best things I’ve read about aging is the book by Atul Gawande “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.” It was so eye-opening. Have you read it?
Excellent book!! Everyone should read it.
This has been on my mind a lot lately. My dad is 81 but I am only 32 so I am the first in my group of friends to have aging parents. My dad has Parkinson’s disease and has lead a very healthy and active life up until this year when he rapidly developed severe dementia, hallucinations, and anxiety. He now lives in a memory care nursing home, his second after he was asked to leave the first because he ran away when he was having a hallucination and is considered a flight risk and a liability. My dad is an amazing man but his life is not even a shadow of what it was 8 months ago. If you’re looking for a worst case scenario, this is it.
All of this has completely changed the way that I look at aging. If you had asked me a year ago, I would have told you that the elderly should “age in place” (live independently in their own homes as long as possible). I would have said that having a DNR would mean that you could die with dignity when you were ready. I would have said that money saved for retirement (plus MediCare/MedicAid) would be enough to make sure that you were able to live your later years comfortably. I no longer believe any of these things.
My brother is a geriatric nurse in a nursing home. He says that people often tell him that they think his job must be depressing because he works with old people who have been “put in a home” but he says that he feels much worse for elderly people who live in their own homes alone and risk accidents, loneliness, and depression.
A DNR doesn’t matter if you are old and frail and riddled with dementia but otherwise healthy. As terrible as it sounds, many people with dementia hope for chronic illnesses that will make their remaining years short. When I hear people say that they will just kill themselves if they ever get dementia, I have to hold back from telling them that it doesn’t work that way. Death doesn’t come when and how we want it to, even with suicide.
My parents are upper middle class and saved very well for retirement, but many memory care nursing homes require “private pay” so my mom spends $6000 per month for his care and MediCare doesn’t touch it. Social Security helps a bit, but not much. How many people do you know that can afford that out of pocket?
The biggest issue that America has with aging and the elderly is not attitudes about respecting the elderly, it is the cost of healthcare, full stop. I am an American living as an expat in Japan and I don’t see too many differences between the ways that the elderly are treated here and in the US, but at least the elderly in Japan have a medical safety net. A big part of the reason that so many people live to be 100 in Japan is because they have excellent preventative care and public health programs that keeps people from getting lifestyle illnesses that could kill them in their 60’s. Even as an expat, I am required by law to have a physical exam every year, provided free of charge to me and paid by my employer, that includes blood work, an EKG, chest xray, vision, hearing, urine test, etc. plus a quick conversation with a doctor. Imagine what life would be like in the US if that was required! I have two colleagues who were diagnosed with cancer in its earlier stages because of their yearly exams. If they were in the US it might have been too late by the time they had symptoms that brought them to a doctor.
Apologies, I feel like I’ve really been a Debby Downer in this comment, but American attitudes about aging won’t change as long as we don’t value the health and wellbeing of all citizens at all stages of their lives. My dad has a very high quality of life all things considered, and annual check-ups wouldn’t have prevented his dementia, but people shouldn’t have to fear financial ruin when caring for their aging loved ones. It’s easier to respect your grandmother if she isn’t a costly “burden”.
I love your comment so much, Jen.
This is a very thoughtful and well-spoken response. I admire you so much, Jen, for your high regard for your father’s life, both past and present and your clear articulation of your valid points amidst such hardship. I’m sending you a big hug and cheering for you and your parents!
Thank you for your very well written insight. I think it adds a lot that you can share what it’s like to live in another country with excellent healthcare. Too often we Americans like to think that we do it best or that’s how it’s always been done, when in fact we can improve immensely. Complacency can be harmful.
My husband and I (we are in our 40’s and 50’s with elementary and middle school age children ) think that city living (not being dependent on cars for mobility, accessible health care) is preferable for when we are older. We have a few long-lived grandparents in our families (and I lived with mine for most of my life) and some lived more comfortably than others. Even though you are specifically speaking of France, here in our are of the U.S. I see the similarities. For example, when baby boomers wish to remain in their homes, sometimes only part-time, but cry poverty and vote against the school budgets because the taxes are high and they no longer have kids in school. Meanwhile, inventory for homes in low and new building is either the large estate-type homes or super tight town homes/condos that purposely aren’t designed for a family with more than one child. For community to remain vibrant, young families have to stay or move into it. An exodus of the young to more affordable places makes a community unsustainable.
Also, we have the same complaint about benches!
oops! This was a reply to Ditte’s comment, it doesn’t make sense here. Sorry.
Thank you for your perspective! I too would like to see more ongoing preventive care or even just quality care at all ages. My Mom has suffered from gradual hearing loss most of her life and had a cochlear implant at the age of 60. Because her hearing was a “pre-existing condition”, nothing was covered, and my parents are bearing the $100K+ medical bill (thankfully they are thus far able to make the payments). But she has said many times she would do it again, it has so greatly improved the quality of her life! She was able to continue working and can interact with her grandchildren. The sad part is, this procedure would have been completely covered under medicare, if only she would have waited, meanwhile quitting her job and essentially withdrawing from her life. Her doctor has said that many of these elderly patients go thru the operation but never gain the full benefits because they do not have the motivation or ability to complete the extensive practice afterwards (it’s like intense physical therapy for your hearing!) I think this is one example (of many) on how our health care system can be improved to better support us with preventive care while young and make better decisions about how the elderly should be cared for.
I noticed you said:
“When I hear people say that they will just kill themselves if they ever get dementia, I have to hold back from telling them that it doesn’t work that way. Death doesn’t come when and how we want it to, even with suicide.”
Why doesn’t it work that way? Let him be euthanized if he wants. You do not own him.
I hesitate to comment because this topic is taboo, but I do wonder what everyone’s thoughts are on euthanasia? My grandparents are 90 and 95, living on their own, and completely miserable. In his old age, my grandfather has become angry and verbally abusive, but they want to continue to live on their own without assistance. I see them living a Groundhog Day of worry, pain, loneliness and frustration. I hate the idea of living past the time my life is enjoyable, and I actually like the idea of having the ability to end it peacefully and with dignity at the time of my choosing. Thoughts?
While the idea of euthanasia makes me uncomfortable, so does the thought of extended and meaningless suffering. To have a choice to make one’s end peaceful and, with any luck, surrounded by loved ones sounds like an option that should at least be available. I sure would hate the idea of dying a slow death and draining any funds I could be leaving to help my grandchildren go to college or in some other way improve their lives. Plus, I want to be remembered fondly. As Jen said above, it’s easier to respect grandma when she isn’t a costly “burden.” It’s also easier when she is still herself. My last great-aunt died in August at 99. After watching her painful decline from active and sassy to a frail, dependent, suspicious, confused, and cantankerous woman – no, thank you. We’re now going through this with my wonderful MIL and it’s rough. She has lost her desire to live and is making choices that will likely compound her health issues and make her remaining time even more unpleasant. What she is doing is euthanasia, just a pricier version – and I don’t mean money.
Kate: This topic crossed my mind as well. I think it’s a priceless choice to be able to choose the circumstances regarding the end of one’s own life. My biggest fear is the Groundhog day you mentioned filled with anxiety, pain and loneliness. I remember being younger and listening to my 94 year old grandmother wonder why she was still alive. At the time, I was shocked but now that I’m older, I can sympathize. Her friends had all passed, her husband too, she was relegated to living downstairs, and had extremely limited mobility. Even though she lived with her son and grandchildren, she was bored and was simply content to have lived her life. We opt to put our beloved pets out of their suffering in a painless and peaceful method. I would love to have the same option for myself.
I support it. We all agree that when an animal is suffering, it is compassionate to end their life – why should it be different with a human being?
I have watched my grandmother’s slow decline over the last few years. The woman that used to be so independent and fierce and funny is now fully taken over by dementia at age 92. She used to beg me to give her a “Kevorkian cocktail” if she started to lose her mind because she didn’t want to live like that. She is in perfect physical health otherwise.
The only bright spot I can find is that she has lost her memory so completely that she is no longer angry and frustrated — rather she is like a little child, every day is new.
I think more important than a number is quality of life. My dad’s parents had long, agonizing declines ending with being completely senile and immobile in a nursing home (the same one, but they could rarely even see each other). My grandmother was so drugged-out on Fentanyl patches for her sever rheumatoid arthritis that she could barely talk and didn’t recognize me or ever remember my visits as soon as they ended. My mom’s parents are still very active, mentally with-it, social, and happy at 89 & 92. They live in a very swanky senior living community in their home town that feels like being on a cruise ship. It has continuum of care so they won’t have to leave even if they eventually need dementia care or nursing home care. I think the hardest thing for them is that their huge community of lifelong friends are constantly dying. In the case of all my grandparents, they were all lucky to get this far with plenty of money and excellent support from their children, which makes a huge difference, but it’s the golden combo of money + family + health that seems key to an ideal last stage of life.
I don’t have a specific age in mind, but I’m only 29 and one thig that has always interested me is that, at some point, people apparently wake up one morning and realize that they would be okay with dying. I mean, at my age I definitely don’t want to go anytime soon, but then there’s my grandma in her 90s who doesn’t want to die tomorrow, but on the other hand, if she did, she wouldn’t feel like she was missing out on anything in life. It’s like that Dumbledore quote, “to the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” I guess that means my mind isn’t well-organized yet 😉 but being okay with dying seems like such a shift that will be weird to realize has happened. I’m sure it happens at a different time for everyone, but I wonder about the age at which it becomes common for people to feel that way.
This topic is so interesting to me. My dad died of a heart attack in his sleep at the age of 77 after many years of a very physically debilitating illness. As sudden as it was, I was thankful that he got to go quickly, instead of perhaps dying of his illness slowly overtime, or from a fall, etc. He would have hated spending prolonged time in a hospital, etc. Currently, we are watching my in-laws live into their late 80’s and mid 90’s with continual health issues. Finally in assisted living, but still in and out of the hospital for this and that.
I stumbled upon this article from The Atlantic “Why I hope to Die at 75” awhile back, and find it to be a very thought provoking read, as is the whole topic of aging.
My family thinks I’m ghastly to have decided this, but for years now I’ve said that 83 is the age after which I would want strictly palliative care for any terminal illness/injury that befalls me. I don’t have children and while I have nephews, who knows if they’ll be the visiting type when I’m very old. (Right now they are all young and charming but I can’t ply them with candy and toys forever.) My father says he’s going to live until he’s at 100 and therefore will take me in when I’m old, but that will only gets me up to age 74. ;)
I hope New Jersey becomes a Death with Dignity state between now and then.
I just attended the memorial for my uncle, he was 96. His sister died the week before him at 101years. My grandparents lived to 95, 98. My dad died at 73, my mom 85. It has left me pondering the next 30plus years I may have. What resonated with me the most was my uncle’s grandchildren standing up and speaking about how interested he was in their lives, how he called them weekly to catch up and how intently he shared his faith and encouraged them to walk with Jesus, serve others and use their gifts and talents to better the world. Yes, they had eye-rolling stories of his corny jokes and quirky ways. But his involvement in their lives even though he couldn’t get out to see them much carried such weight. That is what I am aspiring to, being involved in the lives of others and encouraging them in anyway I can regardless of how many days are allotted to me.
In Singapore (& probably other Asian countries, that is my guess) there *is* this inherent deference to the elderly. It has its good & bad, probably the effects of what one may call from being a more ‘traditional’ society (?). So with regards to this issue, yes, it is good that filial piety still remains. I myself am with children; my parents stay with me and my siblings & I consider it our responsibility to tend to our parents’ well-being, as crotchety and impossible as the elderly may get. For Singapore, this issue is also probably made easier with proximity & policies; our country is very small, so even living apart doesn’t make it impossible for us to visit our parents regularly and there are policies in place to encourage us to care for our parents (tax rebates if parents stay with us, some incentives if we purchase flats near our parents).
Having said that, the issues you raised are also something we are starting to see here too. With more children moving overseas, or things aren’t what they were and taking care of parents and children are becoming too big a financial commitment to undertake, changing values, etc… so I guess what I am saying is, Generation X-ers and younger in Singapore have to ask ourselves similar questions to those posed by you about us growing old than our parents, by and large.
I took a Gerentology class at university. The two things I remember, fifteen years later, are these:
1. When people think it’s dementia, it’s usually really not. Dementia is used too broadly to describe problems that old people have.
2. The TV show Golden Girls is unrealistic and is not an accurate representation of what it’s like to be old.
Quick stats: I’m thirty, single mom, with an 11 year old. My mother lives with us, disabled. She is 57. Father dead at 40, grandparents dead at 47, 55, 58. I have no expectation of living past 60. One of the factors in not terming a teen pregnancy was that I might live long enough to see my kid to adulthood.
When I was in middle school we did a writing assignment on our greatest fear. There were lots of papers about sharks and spiders; mine was that I would succumb to a debilitating but not fatal injury and be a burden on my family for the rest of my life.
I worked in a skilled nursing home in the business office, spared the caregiving work but having to break the terrible news that people cannot afford to stay. Do you remember that survey last year that said 40% of Americans can’t cover a $400 emergency? Aging gracefully is a luxury, and simply aging is not something many of us are going to be able to afford.
Reading Jen’s comment and thinking about my own life and those of many of my friends. There are so many of us in the “sandwich” zone of caring for elderly parents and young children. I would love to read more about women being pulled two ways on your blog.
I don’t care as long as I don’t outlive my daughter.