Once again, I want to thank everyone who has said a prayer, left a comment, sent an e-mail, or made a helpful job suggestion in the last 24 hours. I resist the very idea of the blogosphere as a “community”, but sometimes, I have to admit, it comes pretty close. God bless you, one and all, and be assured that I have remembered you all in my own poor prayers.
To have actually written “we will consider relocating for an opportunity that has serious long-term potential” indicates the desperation I was feeling. I suppose we’re not quite that desperate yet. I need to try harder – and pray harder – to find a solution here in the north valley so that we can build on the foundation we already have.
I drove into town around noon today. I needed to stop by the church and pray that novena, pick up some fence equipment at the feed store, purchase some wire at the hardware store, and grab a sandwich at the new cafe. At two of the businesses I ran into several people I know, and at the third I ended up in a friendly conversation with a neighbor I had never met. The town is familiar now, the sights and sounds and smells, and even, at last, many of the people. In December we’ll have lived here for four years. The thought of starting over somewhere else is not a pleasant one.
For the last several years, since my grandmother became ill, the thought of nursing homes and elder care has haunted me. So many lonely and suffering people, so many with no family to care for them, no saintly nuns at their bedsides, no sacramentals in their sterile rooms, no priests to hear their confessions. This has motivated us to visit assisted living facilities so that our children can play some music and bring a little cheer to these folks. During the evening rosary one of the children usually mentions “for the people in nursing homes” as a prayer intention. My wife, too, is a pharmacy consultant for nursing homes and is developing a soft spot for those whom she serves.
Of course, many people in elder care facilities have good families who visit often and do everything they can for their aging relatives. It sometimes happens that a nursing home, or an assisted living facility, really is the best solution – even when there are loving family members willing and able to help. Increasingly, however, the children of the elderly do not live nearby, or they are estranged for some reason, or they don’t exist at all. The generation now entering nursing homes is one that embraced contraception. Their children, if they had any, didn’t usually stay close to home. They were taught to pursue their careers no matter where they ended up, and often enough, they didn’t have much of a choice.
Additional signs of estrangement between today’s elderly and their children can be found on the backs of recreational vehicles, whose bumper stickers proudly proclaim “We’re spending our children’s inheritance”. Increasing numbers of people are choosing to live in “active adult” retirement communities, which exclude families with children, placing yet another psychological barrier between the generations.
A recent NY Times article reflects the anxiety of those who have chosen to remain single and childless, and who are now facing the hard realities of old age:
As a single childless woman, I share the fear of my readers, above, and no amount of financial preparation for a prolonged old age calms me. For sure, my long-term care insurance policy will buy me a home health aide and pay to retrofit my house if I’m able to remain here, or contribute to care in another setting. I have the luxury of savings and a mortgage that will be paid off by the time I’m 70. If I need a geriatric case manager, I’ll probably be able to afford one. I count my blessings.
But, having witnessed the “new old age’’ from a front-row seat, I’m haunted by the knowledge that there is no one who will care about me in the deepest and most loving sense of the word at the end of my life. No one who will advocate for me, not simply for adequate care but for the small and arguably inessential things that can make life worth living even in compromised health.
This modern phenomenon of childless adults is going to have serious consequences for nursing and elder care. The need for workers in this field will be acute in the very near term. An alarming study titled “Life Without Children” reveals the data:
“In 1970, 73.6 percent of women, ages 25-29, had already entered their childrearing years and were living with at least one minor child of their own. By 2000, the share had dropped to 48.7 percent. In 1970, 27.4 percent of women, ages 50-54, had at least one minor child of their own in the household. By 2000, the share of such women had fallen to 15.4 percent. A growing percentage of women today are not having any children. In 2004, almost one out of five women in their early forties was childless. In 1976, it was one out of ten.”
“We are in the midst of a profound change in American life. Demographically, socially and culturally, the nation is shifting from a society of child-rearing families to a society of child-free adults. The percentage of households with children has declined from half of all households in 1960 to less than one-third today—the lowest percentage in the nation’s history. Indeed, if the twentieth century aspired to become the ‘century of the child,’ the twenty-first may well become the century of the child-free.”
Every cloud has a silver lining. Economically, of course, the elder care “industry” is going to explode. That’s good news for healthcare workers, who will be in great demand. It is also good news for Christians who are serious about holiness. Caring for the aged, the sick and the dying is a time-tested road to sanctity. Many a saint has been perfected in the school of love now known as “elder care”. Perhaps, if Catholics begin now to flock to the health professions, we can both ease the suffering of the elderly and stem the tide of harrassment that has lately besieged Catholic institutions due to the Church’s pro-life ethic.