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Facing Senilicide

How do we treat our aging parents?

Oleg Golovnev/Shutterstock
Source: Oleg Golovnev/Shutterstock

J'accuse. When Emile Zola wrote his open letter in 1898, he accused the French government of anti-Semitism and the unlawful jailing of Alfred Dreyfus. J'accuse became a rallying cry against injustice. J'accuse certain of my relatives of abandoning my 90-year-old mother to the confines of a hospital wing where she lies flat on her back in bed all day, day after day, when she can afford to be cared for at home, as she desires and deserves. Yes, it is work, but it is the one promise she sought from her children: let me die at home.

Senilicide is the killing off of old people, like the common misperception that Eskimos put their elder folk on ice floes and sent them off to their deaths in an icy sea. That may have happened during severe famines. When food ran short, the old and infirm might be abandoned and left to die. But in times of abundance, no one was ever abandoned because they were a burden. If a family member did kill or harm an elder, they were socially stigmatized.

In a way, senilicide could be considered assisted suicide, which was practiced by Yuits and Inuits, not only for the elderly and infirm, but also for someone suffering severe depression or who asked to be released from pain. Interestingly, if you were asked to help, you were bound to comply despite any misgivings you might have.

But I have not been asked to help with what is happening to my mother. It was orchestrated behind my back, at a time when I could not turn up to fight the good fight, to refute the unauthorized power of attorney they asserted, to hire new home care. Of course, those who arranged this travesty will claim it is for my mother's own good, that she was terrorizing her home aides, that she has trouble breathing and needs to be in a hospital. Then why did her doctor release her, calling me and saying she was fine to go home?

I know that they are the ones there and I am a plane flight away. I know that one in particular is feeling very poor herself these days and is reluctant to see a lot of money being spent on keeping mother at home—even though it is mother's money that is being spent. But I know about karma. And I don't want my mother's ending to be fraught with family friction and for her to be plunged deeper into dementia because she doesn't understand why she can't go home.

The situation is not flagrantly abusive. It's subtle, it’s "for her own good." So here I sit, stymied. I know this will kill my mother. Ten days flat on her back and she will develop pneumonia, or become so weak she will fall and break a hip when she finally gets up. I feel like a partner in a crime I don't want to commit. By the time I am able to fly to her bedside, it may be too late to repair the damage that's been done.

I think of all the times I have heard someone say, "I don't want to be a burden to my children." Well, mother has enough money not be a financial burden (although others may be eyeing her finances to see how they can benefit). She may be a burden in other ways these days, but she spent her life helping these very people and their spouses and children.

I was shocked to read about all the various forms of abuse our elders are subjected to. It shows such a lack of respect for life, such a lack of gratitude for what the elders once provided, such a lack of basic humanity. It hurts my heart.

This is merely a way for me to air my grievances, and my grief. As Jesus said, "Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear."