Seldom have I heard the subject discussed outside of occasional mainstream
media 'feature stories' concerning retirement homes and nursing care. It all
seems to have such a commercial flavour these days, that I think we forget the
ideaological essence of the nursing home. Some of what I will say is figurative
or maybe even blatantly naive.
It's a topic that has easily-assailable sociological roots. In America, it seems that the vast majority of families, assuming they remain tightly knit, without
divorces or other catastrophes, nevertheless eventually split. I am talking about of course your traditional, middle-class nuclear family unit. Yes, there's
all kinds of statistics that point solidly to the erosion of the nuclear family since
the 1950s et al, yes, I know. That's not what I'm talking about. Statistics
are one thing, but it's entirely different when you see it for yourself, with your
At 18, a great deal of children feel compelled to move out of their home and
get as far away from their parents as possible. I speak from the perspective
of someone who happens to be approaching that classification. Others are
inhumanely 'kicked out' of their home at about the same time and compelled
to seek their own 'place' and 'job' in order to learn 'financial responsibility.'
There is an infinite number of permutations that explain how this process
logistically happens, but in short, kids go off to university, or just find work in
Pretty soon, Mom and Dad live in San Francisco, and Junior and Sis are in
Charleston and New York, cultivating successful careers, owning a nice house,
driving a nice car, having a geometrically perfect picket fence, 3.2 children, and a cool dog. About once a year, perhaps twice, most likely on Thanksgiving and
Christmas, they might fly to San Francisco to see their parents. Later, when
the children appear, the trend is essentially the same. Once or twice a year,
we all hop on a plane and go visit grandma and grandpa. Sometimes this can
be 'further complicated' by a complete set of grandparents on the other half of
the zygote as well. Years go by, and things are like this. Grandma and grandpa have absolutely no influence over the domestic affairs of their
progeny. Occasionally when there is a domestic dispute about money, one
might feel compelled to call his or her parents and consult. Otherwise, there
is no integration of grandma and grandpa's accumulated, elderly wisdom into
the daily life of this suburban, middle class family.
Decades later, Junior and Sis, with their respective spouses, are in their 40s and 50s. Their parents have long retired, and are becoming medically fragile. Soon
the question arises of what to do with them. One has developed multiple sclerosis, the other one isn't so great either, and both are overwhelmingly
burdened with each others' care. Or perhaps they have divorced, and are both
individually getting weary, worn from their years.
Either way, soon the question arises of what to actually do with Grand-dad.
He's lost a great deal of his sight, his hearing isn't great, hope of financially-sound, self-sustaining medical care has abandoned him, and basically he needs someone to live with. Faced with increasing reminders of
Grand-dad's mortality, it shocks me what a vast percentage of families opt
They put them in a nursing home!
Of course, there are often logistical circumstances that simply make it an
axiom that a certain percentage of the elderly will live in such a community.
Be it the unfortunate death of their children, or the poverty of the family,
or illness, sometimes there's just no other place for them to go when they
become no longer self-sufficient. Sometimes, the elderly become so ill that
they simply require professional, managed care, and their children, much as
they may want to, are simply not able to provide this. These and many other
circumstances all merit seeking such a facility where their parents may live
their final days in peace.
But more often than not, these people, used to the comforts of cozy suburban
life, hold themselves to be simply not in capacity to deal with the emotional
burden of being reminded of their own and their parents' mortality. They think
they cannot endure watching their parents degenerate before their own eyes,
in gradual, incremental steps. Therefore, they opt for the way out of the coward
-- they seek for them a nursing home or "assisted living" community, and simply chuck them in. Their parents are of course in no capacity to protest, in
their frailness. It may be entirely against their wishes to end up in such a place,
but what else are you going to do with them?
I believe this amounts to a betrayal of one's parents, and all that they stand
Grandpa and grandma gave you life - they conceived you, they nursed you
into the world you know, taught you everything you know that is fundamental,
and provided for you. They have given you what is priceless. And now, when
they are frail, old, and demand some parenting from you, you pack them away
in a nursing home where they decay in a monotonous, purpose-less existence.
They may have been aspiring intellectuals in their day, who wish to continue to
write, to translate, to work, but instead they must spend their day in their
room, congregating occasionally in the lobby to watch television. I realise that
the environment in various retirement communities varies, especially given
their diversity ranging from something like an apartment complex to an utter
prison. But if your parents explicitly wish to be there, or are modest and refrain
from saying this in order to not impose 'undue hardship' upon you, you are
violating their natural rights as human beings. You are undoing the essence
of your own being.
It is your absolute obligation and duty to your parents to reciprocate their
immeasurable care when they need it most, in their final years. This is very
dire emotional hardship to many, who may have never even encountered the
physiological decay and death of a loved one before. But, it is your duty
to care for your parents, to not abandon them in their final years.
Easy for me to say, the armchair idealist. I'm far too young for the prospect
of caring for my parents to be on any conceivable horizon. Perhaps my
outlook will change and adjust pragmatically to the realities of my life as an
adult. Perhaps not. But it is imperative that we not collectively abandon our
elderly. It is this school of thought -- take the easy way out, dispose of the
burden of your loving parents -- that will lead into social stagnation. You, so far as you are in capacity to do so, are
responsible for the care and security of your parents until the moment they
draw their last breath. The neglect of this responsibility amounts to
an inhumane, parasitic lifestyle -- one that is so typical of middle-class, suburban career-men. Remember that when you are frail, when your hearing
is gone, sight negligible so much that you cannot read, when your nerves are
degenerating, cognitive abilities slipping away. Your children owe their lives
to you. To say anything less is a dire contradiction of basic human instinct for
care, for affection. You do not have to get through it alone - you must rely on
the support of your family. If your family is unwilling to facilitate this for you,
your family amounts to nothing.
It is in this light that I present the plight of today's American seniors.
My perspective is probably somewhat limited and biased, but in school I have
many times visited nursing homes for some form of community service or
another, in a variety of areas in the US in which I have lived. In every instance,
I encountered people with whom, once I got to talking earnestly, I have found
that they do not really wish to be there, that they find their lifestyle unsettling,
and that the beginning of the end of their golden years is the worst emotional
hardship they have ever had to endure because their families simply opened
their wallets, threw out some money, and stuffed them in these homes.
They have been abandoned.