Let’s have the debate.
Recently, I saw this image and found that it rang true in my heart.
Then I read an article by Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel in The Atlantic, “Why I Hope to Die at 75.” It left me speechless. While I don’t want to give the content additional acknowledgement, I also don’t want to give an unfair and oversimplified summation of the article, so you can read it for yourself by clicking here.
According to the author, living too long is a loss. “It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, (and) the world.” He writes, “We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.” His antiseptic analysis concludes that a deadline of 75 would force each of us to ask “whether our consumption is worth our contribution.”
His contentions wouldn’t bother me so much if he weren’t the director of bioethics at the National Institutes of Health. His ethics contribute to our national debate.
Who gets to decide what constitutes the contribution of a life? And what kind of heart remembers those who die later in life as ineffectual or pathetic?
My parents will never know how much they contributed to my capacity for love by allowing me to care for them in their last years. In my opinion, we deny ourselves our greatest lessons by trying to avoid the parts of life that are difficult. This is when we learn to love each other best. And I believe that is a contribution our society sorely needs.
Who will speak up for the sweetest parts of what it means to be human? I will. I fear for a world led by people who think without feeling. That is the only excuse I can offer for the views of elderhood offered by Dr. Emanuel. He thinks a lot.
In my practice as an elder law attorney, I meet with families every day who are struggling to manage the myriad details related to the aging of their loved ones. I have yet to meet a family who would rather not have their loved one to care for.
Ironically, or maybe it’s perfect timing, I have just published my new book “Embracing Elderhood: Planning for the Next Stage of Life.” It is a practical guidebook written by this grateful daughter who has just walked her parents through the end of their lives. It includes a lot of things families don’t even know they need to know about planning for aging relatives.
The book began as a guide to help families (like mine) who need to know how to arrange the practical aspects of aging like finance and legal documents, and the potential need to access care services. However, as I wrote the book, I found that the most important parts about my walk with my own parents had nothing to do with the nuts and bolts of their living into old age. I had to write about the emotional and spiritual growth that I experienced as I helped them. That is only one of many contributions my parents made by staying with me into their nineties and letting me love them, no matter how pathetic others may find that gift.
I think I’ll invite Dr. Emanuel to the book launch party!