Why We Don’t Want to Live Forever

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 eighteen 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 LTC insurance hardly covers all of that, I’m certainly grateful she had the foresight to carry such a policy. (Although John Hancock, the carrier, has never paid on time, and all payments involve hours of being on hold with its invariably unhelpful help-line operators — and please fax them, don’t e-mail.) My three children deserve as much.

And yet, on the verge of writing the check (that is, the first LTC check), I backed up.

We make certain assumptions about the necessity of care. It’s an individual and, depending on where you stand in the great health-care debate, a national responsibility. It is what’s demanded of us, this extraordinary effort. For my mother, my siblings and I do what we are supposed to do. My children, I don’t doubt, will do the same.

And yet, I will tell you, 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?

This 6,000 word longread in New York magazine by Michael Wolff is gut-wrenching, and tackles that hard question of caring for the people we love as they age. Is $17,000 a month worth it to care for a loved one who is unable “to walk, talk, or to address her most minimal needs”? And if you’re not keeping a loved one alive, could you let him or her die? These are tough questions, and we all have our own circumstances, and probably don’t know how we’d react until we’re faced with such a situation in front of us. In my old age, I would make sure to have a “Do Not Resuscitate” order on file, because I wouldn’t want to be confined to a bed for the remaining years of my life. If you’re pro-extending life to go as long as possible, and the health care expenses are your financial responsibility, consider long term care insurance. You’ll be glad you did.

Photo: Kdt/Flickr

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