Lee’s death is a seminal event in my life. Her death can still trigger profound grief, yet I am simultaneously full of gratitude for our life together, which is preserved in happy memory. Without her, I deal daily with the reality that I am now over seventy years old and without a wife, or kids, or any immediate family. This circumstance puts me in a regrettably exclusive club, indeed, part of a tiny minority of the adult population. Yet, in terms of the sheer numbers, we are many and growing.
Occasionally I will peek into a potential future and try to visualize the end of my life. It’s something I suspect everybody does from time to time. What do you see? Do you see yourself surrounded by supportive family or are you basically alone at the end? Do you visualize that you will be ensconced in your own home or consigned to spend the remainder of your life in an institution?
There are researchers who study this sort of thing. Unfortunately, according to these experts, kinless individuals like me are more likely to die in a nursing home than to die at home. This finding stands in stark contrast to predictions that Americans in the future increasingly will die in the comfort of their homes. Furthermore, such Americans will be supported at the end by unpaid family and friend caregivers, typically spouses or daughters.
Unsurprisingly, researchers estimate that individuals without family are more likely than others to spend the end of days in a hospital or nursing home setting. Further, they estimate in the bargain that we can look forward to getting poorer care. Consistent with the happy tenor of today’s discussion, these experts predict that I am facing a heightened risk for mental and physical impairments, and, quite naturally, earlier death.
Being childless and a widower and the last living member of my immediate family, this news is not at all encouraging to me. This said, I am encouraged that Robyn and I have found each other late in our lives.
But leave it to these same experts to throw cold water on my expectations for happiness. Thus, while cohabitation has increased as an alternative to marriage among older couples, the experts point out that unmarried, cohabitating seniors are less likely to receive care from their partners than their married counterparts. Of course, seniors in committed relationships who don’t live with their partners are even less likely to get care when they need it.