I don’t know about you, but I want more from life than simple survival — no matter how long my life lasts. A New York Times column today got me thinking along these lines. The gist: most of us are going to end up in nursing homes, sooner or later, and the next few years will see the baby boomers reaching the age of institutionalization. Unfortunately, nursing homes are pretty grim places. My grandmother and my aunt both spent their last days in hospital-like facilities that reeked of urine.
Perhaps, as in so many things, the sheer size of the baby boom cohort will be enough to change things for generations to come. Life in a nursing home is not a pleasant thing to dwell upon. “I hope I die before I get old” is still a common sentiment, even if the age of “oldness” retreats further and further. But think about it we should, or many of us will soon be facing a life of cafeteria meals, bingo nights and proscribed bedtimes, simply because there are few other options.
There’s reason for hope, though, as a few pioneers work to create a place for us to die that’s also a place worth living in. It’s heartening, especially at a time when my own father’s aging, and accompanying health problems, weigh on my mind.
Right now, he’s in his own home, with his pets, and his land, and his collection of hunting trophies proudly displayed on every horizonal and vertical surface. He’s able to live in his own ornery way. And he’s relatively happy. (Not so happy as if his grandchildren lived nearby, but that’s another story.) But if you take away that freedom, how much of his soul, and his will to live, will remain?