Who can you count on to take care of you?

Tomorrow would have been my mother’s 85th birthday. Unfortunately, she never got to be that old. She died of cancer six days after her 75th birthday. She was 15 years older than I am now.

The year Mom died was a hellacious one. In a year, we lost 13 people we loved, including my mother, my mother-in-law, and my ex-husband’s mother. Everyone I had ever called “Mom” was gone.
People who don’t worry about old age without children—because they have children–are always telling me that even if you have kids you can’t count on them to be there when you’re old and sick. I know that’s true in some cases, perhaps many, but that’s not how it works in my family.
When Fred’s father’s health started to fail, he and his mother moved from Las Vegas to Newport, Oregon to be close to us. She didn’t ask, “Would you like to take care of us?” She just decided they were moving to our town. Fred’s dad, who appeared to be in the early stages of dementia and had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, died suddenly of a massive stroke two months after they arrived. We drove Fred’s mother to the hospital in Portland, stayed with her through it all and took care of her for the next four years until she died of lung cancer.
A few months later, my mother was diagnosed with colon cancer. In those months when she went through chemo and repeated hospitalizations, I spent so much time in San Jose I never unpacked my bags. When she died, Fred and I were there with my dad and my aunt. You don’t say, “Well, I’m busy.” I was working and halfway through my master’s degree, but when your mother is sick, you drop everything and take care of her. If my dad, who is 90 but looks 70, needs me, I’m going.
When I hear people say you can’t count on your kids, I say, “Nonsense. You should be able to, and if you can’t, something’s wrong.”
Yesterday turned out to be an odd Fourth of July. My friends Carol and Jerry were coming up from California and stopping to see me on their way to Portland. We agreed to meet at the farmer’s market in Waldport. When I got there, I saw an ambulance in the parking lot and wondered who might be in it. I had no idea until I got a message from Jerry on my cell phone that Carol was inside. She had complained of feeling strange and nearly collapsed when she got out of the car. So they called 911.
Well, I had plans for the rest of the day, meeting other friends to see a local parade and have lunch after, but as I waited for the paramedics to check Carol out, I realized I had only one choice now. I would accompany my friends to the hospital and stay with them as long as necessary. After all, this was my town, they had never been here before, and they were my friends.
Carol was suffering from low blood sugar. After treatment with glucose and food, she was soon her chatty old self and able to laugh about reuniting under these crazy circumstances on Fourth of July. I missed the parade, but we had a good visit anyway, and I thank God my friend is all right.
Like me, Carol and Jerry are childless. Both wanted to have children, both were married before in situations where it didn’t happen, and now that it’s too late, they share life with three dogs, six cats, and Carol’s mother, who recently moved in with them.
As we talked about my Childlessby Marriage book, Carol admitted that she sees what she’s doing for her mother and wonders who will do that for her if her husband isn’t around anymore. Don’t we all?
I pray that when the need arises for her and for me, someone will be there. I believe a friend, a sibling, a cousin, someone will step up, but don’t tell me it doesn’t make any difference whether or not you have children.
What do you think about this?

11 thoughts on “Who can you count on to take care of you?

  1. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, too. I'm going to write a blog post to respond to your question. I'll get the link to you when it's up in case you are interested in reading it.
    Thanks for a provocative post that is on many minds!


  2. Yes, I've heard of people who have kids and even grandkids and can't count on them, but yes it's discouraging that I won't have any descendants once I reach old age. At least I will have nieces and nephews, though it's not the same thing. I'm hoping that I can also make a new long-term close friendship that will also carry me into my old age…


  3. I have mixed feelings about this. Do people have kids because they want someone to care for them in their old age? Is this a reason to procreate? My grandmother stubbornly refused to live with any of her offspring when she could no longer care for herself. She did not want to be a burden to her children or to their families. We visited her in the nursing home, and of course took her home with us for visits, which must have had some impact on her well-being. My step-grandfather (other side of the family), was somewhat the same way. He had actually outlived his only biological child and all of his siblings, but he also had plenty of friends and other family who visited him in his last days. Anyway, I don't think this is why I miss having children. Maybe I will if I live that long, but for now, it isn't!


  4. My mother-in-law also refused to move in with us or her other son. She had both her mother and her mother-in-law live with her in old age and swore she'd never do that to her own kids. But I'm sure she was glad we were nearby. In the end, I don't think anyone wants to depend on other people, children or not.


  5. My 70 year old mother has said to me that because I do not have any children there will not be anyone to look after me when I am old. I hope one day when I am old that my nieces and nephews will be there for me but then again I should not rely on this.


  6. I, too, have worried about this. I'd hate to be an additional burden to my nieces and nephews…That said, the Japanese are making quite the headway in designing robots to take care of their aging population.(Seriously!)


  7. My hopes for my boys are to leave university and get a great job, which could be anywhere in the world, hopefully somewhere hotter than England, so I get long holidays! However, this means that they won’t be around to look after me in my old age. Does this worry me? not really. I could die tomorrow. What is the point of dwelling on what may happen in the future? You may be 80 and living independently and just die in your sleep and not need looking after.


  8. Pam, we all hope to die peacefully in our sleep with no need for others. There are really two ways of looking at this, to worry about what will happen and to let what happens, happen. Thank you for adding your positive spin on the subject.


  9. Ive lost many hours of sleep thinking about this … sometimes I talk to God and ask him to take me before I’m too old where I can’t take care of myself.


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