Most of the people I know in my own age bracket ~ say, 55-65 ~ are moving into that time of life in which our parents are thinking about their final decades, or are already in or beyond the thick of it, with surviving parents needing or no longer able to make care and end-of-life decisions.
My dad is 81, and I'm trying to encourage him to consider the alternatives that might be available to him, should he no longer be able to live on his own or with his partner ~ in his two-story house in the woods, two miles from town. He tells me that his preference, should he become ill or disabled, is for a quick death.
Well, yes. His hope is hardly a unique one.
As one of my friends says, all of those people confusedly wandering the halls of Alzheimer's units did not exactly aspire to that particular destiny.
Most of the congregants in my small church are in their seventies and eighties, and several are in their nineties. I spend much of my pastoral care time visiting with them. I pepper them with questions about life from 75-95, as I wonder what matters to them now, how they prefer to spend their time, and what they think about where and with whom they live.
With all of the above in mind, as well as the details of the countless stories that come my way, I suggested to my group of women friends that we gather to discuss some of the things that our parents let slide ~ at least insofar as we know. We've decided on three topics:
Where and how would we like to live if we become unable to live on our own?
What are our end-of-life preferences in the event of impending death?
What are our wishes for our funerals?
Oh, those are uplifting topics, you may be saying.
But I see among the members of my congregation how seldom they are discussed, how stymied adult children are when backed into a corner in which decision-making is required, and how almost no one is able to suggest music or readings for a parent's funeral.
My friends and I, most of us, have known one another for 25 years, and we are going to be counting on each other to take care of these things ~ but we don't know enough about these matters in general, let alone what we think about them.
We met this past week to begin to discuss the first question. We quickly realized that the options seem limitless until they don't, that those of us who still have husbands are not necessarily in agreement with them about where to live as we age, and that money is an enormous factor.
We talked more seriously than we have in the past about what my son calls our "commune" -- our somewhat serious desire to live together, or even nearer to one another than we do now, and hire someone to provide care if we need it, as an alternative to institutional living.
We talked over the huge issue of moving either directly in with children, or to assisted living care near them ~ only to have to confront the possibility of another move if those children decide to move elsewhere for new jobs.
A couple of us are going to make some visits ~ to a nearby apartment building which caters to the elderly, and is practically on top of shopping and dining possibilities - no driving required, and to one or two of the crème-de-la-crème retirement communities.
[Me? I don't have a great need for independence (as opposed to solitude), I hate to cook, and I have a constant craving for stimulating conversation and engagement, at least at the level of observation, with respect to arts and politics and knowledge in general. So to me, the retirement community connected with Oberlin College, about an hour away, or the one right here at Case Western and inhabited by many of Cleveland's movers and shakers, sounds ideal. My husband isn't nearly at interested (i.e., not at all interested), and they are probably both out of our price range anyway.]
Our little group didn't get very far, but at least we are talking and asking questions.