This past weekend, a couple of friends and I were talking about what has happened to relatives who have aged. Some of them resist going into assisted living. Understandably, they want to stay at home.
But they are not considering reality and the burden this places on their kids. Their children, or a surrogate, has to live with them, at least for most of the day. As anyone who has ever cared for an elderly and/or injured relative knows: it is a bitch of a job. Exhausting, unrelenting and thankless.
While I was thinking about this, I read what follows, in The Locked Room, the police procedural novel I quoted from a few days ago. Things haven’t changed much, have they, from Sweden in the early 1970’s, except that we now call this “assisted living,” and if you have quite a lot of money you can be taken care of rather well:
Martin Beck knew that a lack of staff constituted a difficult problem for the old people’s home, not least the shortage of nurses and ward assistants. He also knew that such personnel as did exist were friendly and considerate to the old folk—despite wretchedly low wages and inconveniently long working hours—and that they did their best for them. He’d given a great deal of thought to how he could make existence more tolerable for [his mother], maybe by having her moved to a private nursing home where people would devote more time and attention to her; but he’d quickly come to the conclusion that she could not expect much better care than where she was already. All he could do for her was to visit her as often as possible. During his examination of the possibilities for improving his mother’s situation he’d discovered how much worse off an incredible number of other old people were.
To grow old alone and in poverty, unable to look after oneself, meant that after a long and active life one was suddenly stripped of one’s dignity and identity—fated to await the end in an institution in the company of other old people, equally outcast and annihilated.
Martin Beck realized that in spite of everything his mother was better off than most of the other old and sick people. She had saved and stinted and put aside money in order to be secure in her old age and not become a burden to anyone. Although inflation had catastrophically devalued her money, she still received medical care, fairly nutritious food, and, in her large and airy sickroom, which she was spared from sharing with anyone else, she still had her own intimate belongings around her. This much at least she had been able to buy with her savings.