Last week New York Magazine published an agonizing first person cover story by Michael Wolff, “A Life Worth Ending,” about the terrible choices and harsh reality of illness at the end of his mother’s life. The summary slug for the piece says it all: “The era of medical miracles has created a new phase of aging, as far from living as it is from dying. A son’s plea to let his mother go.” Unfortunately, this story is one that all too many baby boomers are living as their parents move into their eighties and beyond. How can it be otherwise when almost 50% of Americans experience three or more years of profound disability before death?
In fact, there is already a growing body of such stories, including Sandra Tsing Loh’s “Daddy Issues: Why caring for my aging father has me wishing he would die,” in the March 2012 Atlantic; Jane Gross’ book-length A Bittersweet Season based on her care of her mother and New York Times blog The New Old Age; and Jonathan Rauch’s 2010 Letting Go of My Father, also in The Atlantic Magazine. I reflected on Mr. Rauch’s piece at the time. You can see an interview with him recorded by The Campaign for Better Care, funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies.