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I usually don’t think about it much, but it’s hard not to when someone close to you dies as my grandmother did last December. My mother spent much of the year traveling cross-country to her mother’s house to visit, attend doctor’s appointments and sort out financial matters. I couldn’t help thinking there would be nobody to do the same for me.
To cheer myself up I like to point out that having kids is no guarantee they will be there in the end. Chances are decent they will blame you for ruining their lives, which is perhaps the least horrific of the potential outcomes -- overdose, cancer, eating disorders -- I’ve occasionally witnessed my parent-friends endure. Overall, expectations for kids in today’s world are pretty low. To paraphrase Chris Rock, his benchmark for doing a good job as a father is keeping his daughter “off the pole.” Forget about expecting her to nurse him on his deathbed.
This is what I like to tell myself, although I’m not sure I really believe it. But like all the other reasons to have kids – from missing out on an essential part of life/being a woman to reducing my chances of developing MS -- that I tried on over the several years I was pondering the decision, in the end it seemed like both a risky and drastic solution for a potential, future, or only perceived problem. Instead, spurred on by my grandmother’s death, I had a will, trust, health care proxy, and power of attorney drawn up so that, even though there is unlikely to be family, whoever is there will know my wishes. I also intend to take financial planning around my later years into serious consideration while I am still young enough to do something about it. I figure with the help of the Internet and books and ideally the identification of a good caregiver, by the time I reach old age it ought to be a little less lonely.
For the last few years of her life, my grandmother was lucky enough to have, in addition to my mother, a caregiver who served as nurse, chauffeur, cook, and cleaner. Juanita allowed my grandmother the privileges of retaining a social life, ferrying her around to assorted women’s’ clubs, and remaining in her own home until she died. Juanita also enforced a regimen of eating and bathing my domineering grandmother would have never allowed her own daughter, my mother, to dictate. My grandmother, a generous but emotionally cold woman with a not insignificant stubborn streak, occasionally used Juanita as a pawn to antagonize my mother. On her deathbed my grandmother beckoned my mother with the plea she needed to tell her something important. When my mother got close, my grandmother informed her she was not going to tell her what she had to say, but that she would tell Juanita. The point of all this is that at the end of your life there is not only no guarantee about how your children will behave, there is also no guarantee about how you will behave. I will concern myself with the latter.