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Single, Childless and ‘Downright Terrified’

Original post made by Sharon, Midtown, on Aug 7, 2008



From NYT Web Link

Jane Gross's NYT blog describes the fears of those who are Single, Childless and 'Downright Terrified'. They have made plans for geriatric care, stored up their retirement funds and readied their insurance. The future holds no great material terrors. If that's all you want.

"Having witnessed the "new old age'' from a front-row seat, I'm haunted by the knowledge that there is no one who will care about me in the deepest and most loving sense of the word at the end of my life. No one who will advocate for me, not simply for adequate care but for the small and arguably inessential things that can make life worth living even in compromised health".

Comments (19)

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 7, 2008 at 3:09 pm

I have one single friend in her 50s who is an only child and the only person caring about (not actually for) her mother, her aunt, and their cousin, all in their 80s. Two of them live together and one still lives on her own. At present she has no social life as her evenings and weekends are full of running errands and visiting these older ladies. The likelihood is that in 30 years' time, she will be in the same boat herself with no younger relative to do for her what she does for them. One of the ladies is childless and one has a couple of children who live a long distance away. My friend has no children herself and the likelihood of remaining on her own is strong as she is so busy running around for her relatives that she can't find time for anything more than casual friendships herself. The long distance relatives are not going to be around either. I have no idea if she is terrified, but if she is, I wouldn't blame her.

There are a lot around like this and with the amount of divorce and women putting off having families because of careers and then not being able to, there is going to be a lot more in the future.


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Posted by sue
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 7, 2008 at 3:17 pm


You want to know the cold hard reality that this article only slightly touches on but won't confront or acknowledge.

The single, childless elderly that can't do for themselves are left to fend for themselves and really what "society" wants is a quick death for them so that there is no "hassle" with caring for them.

Cold maybe, but really is reality, if you didn't have kids/spouse, what you have is person that is only "good" for society until they can no longer produce for society, meaning working or spending money, no ways around it, that is what happens.

So if you are single and childless enjoy your years where you have parents around and make the most of living, because once you can't and are too old your time is effectively "up".. harsh but true.
Yes that means you have an effectively shorter amount of time to use in life.


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Posted by RN
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 7, 2008 at 3:25 pm



I am a 57 year old woman, who, early on, decided not to be a parent. I am terrified of getting older, and being a burden to my niece and nephews. I have health concerns (lupus, 'survivor' cancer) - - I am OK now, but know there will be issues in the future. I hope I suffer a rapid demise, and don't have to be a part of the horrific health care system that I witness daily.
What I see is horrific.
When the time comes, I would welcome a MI that I never wake from, rather than linger in a system that is ill-equipped to handle my aging and/or needs.


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Posted by ???
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 7, 2008 at 4:48 pm

There may be a case for elderly friends, possibly widows, without children setting up house together and getting "married" just to be able to make decisions for each other and that sort of thing. I believe it is being done in the UK where there is even tax advantages to do so. Nothing to do with being gay, more to do with being legally able to do what friends want to do to help each other.


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Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 8, 2008 at 3:28 am

Those who marry and have children give hostages to the future, but they have a future.


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Posted by JC
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Aug 8, 2008 at 4:07 am



The less people the less global warming, those who choose to be childless are doing the rest of us and our children a favor.

Of course they are going to die lonely, but they deserve our thanks for their sacrifice.

Countries like Holland and Switzerland have laws allowing medical suicide so that old people do not become a burden to society and strangers, we need to allow such mercy killing here too.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Dr. Laura
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 8, 2008 at 6:46 am

Good grief, people.

Stop "fearing" and whining, and make plans!

I have worked with the elderly for 20 years in all settings. The ones who are happiest are those who accepted that they were aging and shrinking in their independence and their social world, so MOVED to communities where everyone else was in the same boat.

Create your own elder life, and take care of yourself.!

For those who remained childless and now regret it because they think that kids are for caring for you when you age..good thing you stayed childless! I have no desire to be a burden to my kids. I plan to shrink my home as my abilities change, and then move into an assisted living environment if I am still alive past the time of being able to care for myself and do my social life and volunteer work.

Stop whining, start planning. When you no longer work, join organizations and do something useful every day. When you can't do that, move into a Community Living situation, and work as much as you can THERE to help others' even worse off than yourself.

The first thing on my list of volunteer work will be to fight any laws which allow "mercy killings" of me. A mark of a civilized society is how it cares for its weak and vulnerable. Or, I guess we could go back to leaving the old who can't keep up by the wayside to die as we keep marching in our yearly toward our winter grounds. And leaving disabled newborns out to die! You know, as "mercy" to those who can't "contribute".

Geez.


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Posted by rw
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 8, 2008 at 7:49 am



If you allow abortion of babies then you have to allow mercy killing of the old.

Both babies and the old are dependent and a financial and emotional burden on others, if you can kill one you can kill the other.

Its a matter of choice.


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Posted by Liz
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 8, 2008 at 8:39 am

I'm over 70 and about to get a chin lift, I want to stay attractive and competitive in this world!!!

Joking aside, isn't China having huge problems with elder care now they've limited families to one child; they don't have the infrastructure of Care and Assisted Living facilities. With only one child per family it is becoming a huge burden on the State that they are not prepared for.


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Posted by sue
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 8, 2008 at 9:07 am



Chinas solution is to encourage smoking, smokers die fast and early before they can be a burden to the state.

Phillip Morris did a study on the financial net benefit for the state from long term smokers.


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Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 8, 2008 at 1:28 pm

England has found another answer - triage.


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Posted by Mom
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 8, 2008 at 1:54 pm

Hey, just because you have kids doesn't mean that they will care for you. Whether or not they care about you depends on your parenting and your nurturing while they grew up.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Dr D
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 8, 2008 at 5:13 pm



They have assisted suicide in Oregon a short flight away.

Also the Hemlock Society has excellent advice on ending life quickly and cleanly.

Holland and the Swiss have liberal laws and an open door policy for those who would like to and can travel before the end.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by ng
a resident of Hoover School
on Aug 11, 2008 at 4:09 pm



imagine the fate of the Chinese parents who lost their only child in the earthquake?

to die without offspring is a terrible fate

for your child to die before the parents is hell


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 12, 2008 at 7:14 am

Mom is right, as always. You need to sustain any relationship.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2008 at 9:32 pm

The problem is not who is going to take care of you by wiping your drool, or who will take you in for Thanksgiving, but who will be allowed to make decisions for your care, your finances and other legal situations. Children are automatically next of kin, but it can become a family nightmare as to who is responsible for old Auntie when she is too feeble to do it herself. All the nieces and nephews want is the money she leaves behind, not the power of attorney or the bills for the nursing home once the funding runs out.


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Posted by Alive and Well
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 17, 2008 at 7:36 am

I have children and parents, a job and lots of interests. Yet, I make the time to assist neighbors and friends who because of lack of family members, declining health/sometimes catastrophic, and often lack of financial resources, are unable to be as independent as they want to safely be.

BE OF SERVICE. HOLD A HAND. LISTEN TO A STORY. SHARE A JOKE. HELP SOMEONE TALK A WALK. PICK UP MILK/BREAD/PRESCRIPTION FOR A SHUT IN. BE OF SERVICE.

There is nothing that makes your day more worthwhile. Give yourself the gift of giving to another.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 17, 2008 at 10:40 am

A & W

Good for you. I hope that there are many more like you, and I try to do the same.

But, please do not call the elderly "shutins". It is a very unpolite phrase. If people can't leave the house by themselves they are housebound or homebound which gives them a sense of dignity.


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 17, 2008 at 1:42 pm

Geez, I didn't realize I had kids so my old age would be taken care of. There are childless women who have lived to ripe old ages. It is a matter of planning.

I think there's a lot to be said for not living alone. I have a friend who's childless, single and getting older who shares a duplex with a friend in the same boat. It makes a difference.

I think it's all about community. Palo Alto's gotten to be a worse place to be single and old because it's a more transient place than it was. I think it's easy to be isolated here, more so than in a smaller, quieter community where everybody knows everybody.


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