Early last week Cheryl’s mother died. We both loved her. And she loved us. Until the age of 90 she was relatively self-sufficient. But then things started to go bad. First it was arthritis in the knee, followed eventually by a deteriorating hip, the correction of which would have been too risky a surgery for a person of her age.
Digestive problems sent her to the emergency room on a semi-regular basis. Then dementia began its subtle attack. Minna spent the final year of her life in an assisted living facility (A.L.F.). Fortunately, she and her late husband Sid had squirreled away enough savings to ensure that Min could afford a high-quality board-and-care facility in which to spend her final year.
Which brings us to a point, we suspect, few would-be parents think about. Minna was once someone’s baby. She died a long, deteriorating death. When you bring a life into the world, you likewise bring in a death as well. Recent statistics prove that 100 percent of Americans who live . . . will die. Depending on your religious and/or “spiritual” beliefs, you may or may not feel that death is just a transition to another plane of existence. But even if that’s so, what’s to guarantee that you will be any happier there than you were here?
Min (as family and friends usually called her) lived into her 98th year. She could no longer remember which of her family contemporaries and friends had passed away (all of them had). Near the end she had no knowledge of who Ellis was, even though she had dearly loved her son-in-law. Virtually every child faces the possibility of an eventual outcome like Min’s.
In our soon-to-be released book, Enough of Us, in which we discuss the difficulties of having children, we only briefly discuss the hazards and pitfalls of old age. In her final year, Min never again saw her home of the previous 56 years. The four or five other residents of the A.L.F. also suffered from dementia, so her connections to her new “friends” were tenuous at best. It’s likely that neither Minna nor the other residents of the A.L.F had parents who envisioned that one day their children would live out their last days in decrepitude.
An obvious retort to our gloomy outlook might be, “If they live fulfilling lives, isn’t it worth risking that your children will live through a trying final chapter?” Which brings us to another point. What are the odds that the child you bring into the world will live a fulfilling, happy, successful, or worthwhile life? Do most Americans? And we are more fortunate than most of the residents of other countries.
Some will say that a lot of folks, instead of dying via deterioration, die in their sleep or – like Ellis’s father – suffer a sudden fatal heart attack and are gone in a flash. We guess that you could gamble that your progeny will go that way, if that’s what you’re hoping for. But we think that most intended parents just figure they’re off the hook concerning their own children’s demise because they’re gambling that they won’t be around to see the death of their kids.
Many people live less-than-fulfilling lives, only to end their years as frail, dependent, helpless and ill individuals, if, indeed, individuality is even an option. We will miss Min for the rest of our lives. But we do not regret that we will not be putting the children we never had through the misery of seeing us go, nor through the misery of their own protracted demises.