I am thinking of a dear patient of ours who lives in a memory care facility here in North Texas. When she came on the Texas Hospice service she could walk but only with assistance. Now she is wheelchair confined and requires someone to feed her three times a day. She is exhibiting the classic mental and physical deterioration that dementia inflicts on its victims.
Her husband still dotes on her. He feeds and bathes her daily. He works the facility staff such that they don’t miss any detail of her care. What love! What romance! If you are a woman you know what I mean. What greater evidence of committed love is there than a relentless caring for a life-partner at the end of life?
Be honest with me. Do you enjoy spending time in nursing facilities? When you visit a friend or relative residing there do you strategize your exit before you enter the building? Does the environment depress you?
Let’s go a step further. Do you admire the amazing folks who work at these facilities? Does it boggle your mind that anyone would feel a calling into that work?
My answer to all these questions is yes. Yes, yes and yes. I remain an undiluted admirer of the wonderful people who love on the seemingly unlovely. Let me insert a caveat here, though. Having spent ten years in nursing facilities I no longer find the smells and atmosphere overwhelming negative. The acts of love and service occurring in those buildings (most of them) overshadow what we find distasteful.
The Chinese government announced last week a new law that would require individuals to provide comprehensive care for their elderly parents. The urbanization taking place in the country on the other side of the world has been undermining a strong tradition of elder care. Youths are moving into cities. Parents and grandparent remaining in the rural towns are fending for themselves.
Caretaking an older and infirmed human is not the stuff that makes Hollywood blockbusters. We won’t pay to see Brad Pitt feeding a relative suffering from dementia. We prefer a hero the likes of Odysseus or even Tom Cruise’s Maverick in Top Gun.
Other cultures behave differently. I learned recently by observing some San Antonio friends of Texas Hospice that the tradition of elder care is very strong in Bulgaria. Parents and grandparents expect younger married couples to move in with them and at some point provide the assistance aging human beings require.
Apparently this activity is as old as humanity. So are attempts to shuck the responsibility. Jesus chastised the Pharisees for forsaking their elder care duties under the guise of religious contribution.
Former Attorney General John Ashcroft said, “As you devalue culture you proliferate laws. For law is the only restraint left.” I think that is pretty right on. And convicting. I’m not sure how well I participated in my grandmother’s end-of-life care. You know, I’m a busy person . . .
Law students learn that laws uphold the bare minimum of ethics. Our city ordinances don’t require us to give our bus seat to an older person, but we should. The laws of the nation don’t require us to spend the resources and time to care well for our infirmed loved ones, but we should.
So who does care? In one facility close by, it is a a doting husband of 55 years. In China, it will be everyone as required by law in China. In every portion of God’s blue marble it should be all of us, regardless of the laws.