This is a piece I don’t want my children to read (just kidding!). It’s about something we rarely talk about but is a genuine phenomenon: the period in life one could call Life After Parents, which I will abbreviate by LAP.
You know all this great talk about how everyone is living so much longer, how the 80s are the new 30s, and all that stuff? Well, this is all well and good, but there’s a group that is suffering as they deal with this, and that group is the children of these aging pre-baby-boomers who have the nerve to live not just into their 80s, but their 90s, and more often than you might think, into the triple digits.
I’m sure you’ve heard the joke about the married couple who divorces in their mid-90s, after 70 years of marriage. When asked why they waited so long, one of them says, “We were waiting for the children to die.”
But the reality is that we old folks are living too long. And we are not giving our children the chance to experience the freedom of not having parents, the wonderful time of life called LAP.
In an article on Salon.com appropriately titled “The No Win Situation of Caring for Mom and Dad (http://www.salon.com/2011/11/26/the_no_win_situation_of_caring_for_mom_a...),” Lillian Rubin, who was 87 when she wrote this in 2011, and whose wonderful books on relationships I used as texts in my classes back in the 1980s, says, “Those in their 60s and 70s, who looked forward to these years with their promise of freedom from the responsibilities that bound them before, are now asking: ‘When do I get to live my life for myself?’”
Come on, we all know the answer to that question. We just don’t want to say it.
I became an orphan at the age of 49. I’m not saying I’m happy my parents didn’t live at least into their 80s, but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t able to then live my life more fully when I could concentrate my energies on my wife and my children, not to mention my own self-centered lifestyle.
When my father-in-law, who I loved dearly, died at the age of 88, that put both my wife and me in the LAP period. And we were both young enough to enjoy it. But we have a friend who just turned 75 and whose mother is 102. What can she do? You never hear a person say, “We had to put Grandma to sleep.”
As legend has it, Eskimos once put old people on ice floes to drift away and, well, you know, die. According to the popular website, straightdope.com, this isn’t too far from the truth, though getting rid of the old folks was done in a variety of ways, and only done when times were really difficult for the community. If the ice floe solution was a popular practice, and it never was, it would be much tougher now, with climate change warming things up.
In her piece, Rubin quotes a New York Times article about “the failures of Medicare -- what it does that it shouldn’t do, what it doesn’t do that it should.” In the article (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/16/opinion/sunday/how-medicare-fails-the-...), “Jane Gross tallies some of the social cost: ‘Right now, there are 47 million Medicare beneficiaries, costing a half trillion dollars a year, or one-fifth of the nation’s health spending. In 2050, the population on Medicare will number 89 million. How scary is that?’”
Let’s put it this way. At that rate, our children and grandchildren will need all the ice floes they can get.
Of course, from the elderly parent’s point of view, even if you’re not put on a floe, you don’t like to feel cast aside by your children. And here there is a simple fact about what your chances are of getting the assistance you need. If you have at least one daughter, you’re in luck. Women take care of their elderly parents (http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2013/11/21/elder_caregiving_women_a...). Men don’t. I know I’m oversimplifying, and there are no doubt many exceptions, but that old adage holds true for the final years of life just as it did when your son or daughter first got married: “A son’s a son ‘til he gets a wife, a daughter’s a daughter all her life.”
With three sons and no daughters, this does not bode well for me and my wife. I wouldn’t be shocked to see “ice floe” in the search history on any of my sons’ computers.