“Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”—Henry David Thoreau
This past winter I attended a weekend seminar entitled, “Dying to Know” at Fourth Presbyterian Church’s Replogle Center (reploglecenter.org)—a seminar that inspired me to begin deeply considering matters of end-of-life care (Heidi Lading Kiec writes beautifully about the subject in End-of-Life Care: The Conversation That Can’t Wait, page 36).
What particularly struck me from the weekend’s lectures and conversations was how little we—parents, children, friends and others—discuss, in advance, what our desires are for care if, or when, we or a loved one begins losing the capacity to make choices for our own well-being.
How can we create opportunity for true empathy if we have never asked questions of our loved ones or shared with our loved ones our desires concerning end-of-life decisions?
The choices for our 60s and beyond (healthy or nearing death) are many—and growing. Independent living retirement homes and communities, assisted living, nursing homes, memory care and living with (and being cared for by) family members (including children, spouses, siblings, etc.) are only some of the options available in this arena—an arena that is burgeoning as baby boomers and their parents are aging and looking to maintain their independence and, at the same time, be optimally cared for (or caring for others).
Atul Gawande, in his bestselling book, Being Mortal, posits, “It is not death that the very old tell me they fear. It is what happens short of death—losing their hearing, their memory, their best friends, their way of life.” Giving up one’s home and privilege of choice to others is one of the challenges that Gawande discusses in his book and which really moves me to want to know my possibilities and limits in caring for my parents as well as being cared for by my wife and/or children.
My parents are in their mid-80s. They enjoy good health and cherish independence. They often eat out, go to opera and symphony performances, work out five days a week, travel and more. I have never had a conversation with them about how they would like to be cared for if they can’t care for themselves, or about when they believe the time for transition will be near. I realize I need to hear their choices, their truths—while they are healthy and lucid—so that I can see through their eyes and make decisions, as needed, that honor their living.
Only then will I share in Thoreau’s miracle.
Louis A. Weiss