Michael Wolff has stood by while doctors keep his mother alive, despite the fact that she has severe dementia. Here, in this provocative and heartbreaking plea, he reveals why our obsession with longevity is making old age a living hell.
Michael Wolff in The Guardian:
On the way to visit my mother one recent rainy afternoon, I stopped in, after quite some constant prodding, to see my insurance salesman. He was pressing his efforts to sell me a long-term-care policy with a pitch about how much I'd save if I bought it now, before the rates were set to precipitously rise. I am, as my insurance man pointed out, a “sweet spot” candidate. Not only do I have the cash (though not enough to self-finance my decline) but a realistic view: like so many people in our 50s – in my experience almost everybody – I have a parent in an advanced stage of terminal breakdown.
I didn't need to be schooled in the realities of long-term care: the costs for my mother, who is 86 and who, for the past 18 months, has not been able to walk, talk or to address her most minimal needs and, to boot, is absent a short-term memory, come in at about $17,000 a month. And while her insurance hardly covers all of that, I'm certainly grateful she had the foresight to carry such a policy. (Although the carrier has never paid on time and all payments involve hours of being on hold with its invariably unhelpful helpline operators – and please fax them, don't email.) My three children deserve as much.
And yet, on the verge of writing the cheque, I backed up.
What I feel most intensely when I sit by my mother's bed is a crushing sense of guilt for keeping her alive. Who can accept such suffering – who can so conscientiously facilitate it?
“Why do we want to cure cancer? Why do we want everybody to stop smoking? For this?” wailed a friend of mine with two long-ailing and yet tenacious in-laws.