We Canadians got some awful news this week. Or was it good news? No one is quite sure yet. The news comes from Statistics Canada, (our favourite institution for counting us that was darn near torpedoed by that cheapskate Prime Minister, Stephen Harper a few years ago. It told us that in 2016 we had more folks in that category that teens call “the greys” than those teens in the age category 14 and under. Yes, our country has tipped the balance from its self image of “young and vibrant…” to “old and wise…”
Yup. It’s true. The ranks of seniors grew 20 percent in just five years. In numbers I can get my head around, that’s 1000 new senior citizens a day starting to collect their pension, and able to put their feet up. Thats in comparison to the growth in the number of working people wishing they could head for their hammocks. That's a measly 5.4%. Of course at 65, a horde of Canadians start zipping around the world to find themselves in the third age. Most are on cruise ships now or in protected tour groups, not hitting the hostels in Hamburg, or wherever our newly adult noses pointed us way back when. What is the fastest growing demographic? Canadians needing lots of help to hold them up while they blow out 100 candles.
When I lose my comfortable dwindling plot in which I'm sure frail aging is for others but not me, I just have to look at my mother. As she lived her dream, working with Mother Teresa at about the same age I am now, she had no inkling of what lay just around the next bend of her journey. It wasn’t long after she put away her fanny pack and the secret wallet in her bra, that she started to dwindle. That's the thing. Dwindling happens whether we want it or not and before we know it.
Lucky Mom. She had her twins, who she called “Mommy’s little helpers” when we were seven and eventually, “nurse, nurse” as she pleaded for us to come to her aid at the brink. My identical twin Judi and I pinky swore that we would work together to keep both parents comfortable in their homes. And we did. For a decade in fact. Dad was less work. His tangled brain crushed his cognitive capacity, but he'd been smart. In his zoomer days he married a caregiver with privileges who was much younger, and knew the score.
With all that family caregiving, me as Daughter at a Distance but Judi on the front line as Daughter on Deck, we accepted that we had a part time gig that brought our family together and that was good. .Eventually though, it was a full time job for both of us and finally we couldn't handle it alone any more. I wrote a book about that, The Dwindling; A Daughter’s Caregiving Journey to the Edge of Life. But now, with this new data about greying Canada, I am starting to think of me.
I’m wondering who will take care of me as I swish down my slippery slope. An on-line life expectancy calculator assures me I’ll check out at 89, in 2038 to be precise, and that’s with even my generous admission of my red wine consumption. Mom died at 88. My youngest grandson will be turning 21 at my funeral. He might still be living at home. For sure, he’ll still be a big expense to his mom and dad. Of course, while he’s a toddler, preschooler, tween, and even insufferable teen, I’ll be there to read stories and explore Disneyland or help patch together a resume for his first job. But then the tables will turn, big time. The last thing my sandwich son’s marital dyad will need or be able to cope with will be me fading fast in their face. My husband, who hopes to be long gone, will be part of the problem too. The same widget as told me my fate says he’ll still be breathing at 88. My husband shudders at the thought.
Like it or not, my two grown kids will have to do something about me. Stick me in their basement? Get me in the line up for one of those Orwellian long term care centres that make me weep, advocating for me to win the lottery and score one within an hours drive and with a bathtub please? Careland is not a pretty place to visit in 2017, and the grey tsunami is still offshore.
Will I be able to take matters into my own hands without negating my life insurance or shaming my heirs? It’s my right now as a Canadians to seek Medical Assistance in Dying if I fit the still tight (so far) criteria. That will change and I will be facing a new duty, "Duty to die". That's why it is galling that It is still not my right to get palliative care. That’s the kind that doesn’t try to cure me any more but comforts me in every way medically possible, and makes sure my family gets support on their journey to my end and beyond. Sure, we’re better off than most in the world. Canada is 9th out of 40 mostly first world countries for its “quality of death”. We beat Uganda hands down. But the real deal palliative care that happens in a hospice? Well not a chance for 7 out of 10 of us who will just have to make do somehow and somewhere else when we dwindle.
Maybe our Minster of Health, Dr. Jane Phillpot is right. Let’s not panic, she says. We still have a few yards of runway to figure things out. But maybe it’s time for all of us to stop being squeamish about the fact of our coming dwindling and be active in forcing the change we want to see.
it's about the journey
Caregiving was my first and finest journey. Writing this book about it was the next. It lends support to other caregivers who say, "that happened to me too." I'm on another journey now, advocating for caregiving and an activist to bring on better ways of thriving as we age. It's all brought me purpose and meaning, Come along and get some of that too! I'd love to share your stories. Boldly speaking out about our experiences makes us all part of the change we want to see. So
Join me! Let's talk!