From time to time I’ve mentioned the addition my wife and I put on our house several years ago. I don’t know that I’ve ever explained what originally impelled it. We were faced with the prospect of needing to take care of both of our elderly mothers.
We added a full first floor wheelchair accessible bath and created what is in effect a complete efficiency apartment on our first floor. Our new kitchen adjoins a “hearth room” as my architect brother-in-law calls it in open plan and that room would make a perfectly suitable bedroom.
As it turned out the need never arose. My mother-in-law needed more care than we could provide and my mother was nearly completely independent until the day she died. If our addition turns out to have been practical, it will be for our needs as we become less willing to climb stairs rather than for our mothers.
I think that one of the things missing from th lifestyle adopted by so many of my peers, transitioning from oversized house to empty nest to condo (or, in some cases, even more oversized house) is that aspect of care. We don’t care for our elderly relations any more. That has been professionalized and I believe we are poorer for it.
Virtue is a habit. We become courageous by acting courageously and caring by performing acts of care. That is the good sense in Cheryl Magness’s reaction to Emanuel Ezekiel’s expressed preference for dying at 75:
My 84-year-old mother lives with me. She has done so for more than five years now, and it has not been easy. She is not bedridden, nor does she suffer from a debilitating illness. But she is old, and old age, as the saying goes, is not for the faint of heart. My mother has pain and she forgets things. She can be quite negative. She is not very active, nor is she a fountain bubbling over with wisdom day in and day out. She is tired, and spends her days watching television, doing crossword puzzles and Sudoku, and taking naps in her chair. But her mere presence in our house is a blessing because of what it requires of those around her.
If we want a more caring society, we will not accomplish it by paying our taxes dutifully or voting the right people into office but by caring for others ourselves. She’s right. It’s a blessing.