The absolutely most scary thing in all the world is becoming unable to care for yourself and ending up in a nursing home to fritter away your last days in the dayroom watching TV. And as a fitting irony this “final option” costs a fortune and will drain your life savings quicker than you can say, “poor old thing.”  The only bright spot to this scenario is maybe you will be a happy Alzheimer’s case and not care a fig. Just hope your children can rise to the task of managing your last days.

Kelly Green (2012) has some excellent advice on how to plan for your time of growing dependence “on the kindness of strangers.” But it’s that sort of advanced planning that falls in with buying a cemetery plot or clearing out the junk in the attic. Few people actually do it until one must, and then even though it’s a nerve racking crisis, no one learns from the experience.

My parents had an awful time with twelve years of both being limited to wheelchairs and a full-time staff of three caregivers. They remained in their home and, while my Dad had a brief nursing home stay, they both died at home. So it was probably as good as it was going to be but it was still awful.

Now, my wife and I are a little better prepared for our decline but it’s still not something that is part of the flow of our lives.

The end of life is an anomaly and a product of our culture. We have lost the extended family that took care of everyone all the time. When one was born there was an old person in the house dying. We lived in a process that supported us throughout life. We have lost that and are replacing the once extended family with various sorts of institutions that meet specific needs.

Now the old model of everyone living and working in one place and providing support at all stages of development was not a model of choice but one of necessity. There were no outside institutions nor funding sources to pay for them. Everyone did what they had to do.

Still there is a lot to say about a communal life as opposed to an institutional one.

Join us for a real-time discussion about  questions raised by this essay on any Wednesday morning at 8:15 to 8:45 a.m.  See Discussion and SL tabs above for details. Link to the virtual meeting room:

For Further Reading:

  1. Greene, K. The Cost of Living Longer. Wall Street Journal, Family Finances, 10-26-2012,
  2. Niederhaus, SG & Graham, JL. Together Again: A Creative Guide to Successful Multigenerational Living. M. Evans (Rowman & Littefield Publishing), Lanham, Maryland, 2007,


  1. Image from the Vibrant Nation website –
  2. The title comes from A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams