I wake up. Another good day to live. Yes, thank heavens for this gift of a day despite the body aches, the failing eyesight, the dizzy spells. I breathe in unison with 10 million seniors in the Philippines and 1 billion around the world.
They say I can live up to age 80 or 90 with today’s better healthcare. Who knows I might be counted as one of the 426 million octogenarians whose numbers are estimated to triple between 2020 and 2050.
The bonus years between age 60 and 80 are romantically called “the golden sunset years.” Ahh, it has a nice ring to it, especially among old folks who resent being considered oldies or seniors.
Tell me, what is blissful and golden about spending those extra years in and out of hospitals, making regular visits to the doctor’s clinic, being poked here and there, getting pricked for blood chemistry tests, going through MRIs and various scans, and God forbid, having weekly dialysis because of failing kidneys or getting ambushed by a stroke that renders half of your body in a state of paralysis and degeneration?
All of which demand a lot of time and attention, not to mention money, from our children because we, their aging parents, are dependent on them. The stark reality is that the burden grows heavier and gets more prolonged beyond their means. One exasperated family member was overheard saying: “Ano ba yan? Biglang kibot, ospital na naman agad.” Ouch!
Just recently my wife and I attended the burial of one of her last surviving aunts. She lived to age 92. One thing we noticed was the absence of the usual loud sobbing and crying. The ritual of burying seemed so perfunctory. The family members looked more spent than sad.
The late aunt was already very sick, in early dementia, when she asked to be brought home from California more than a year ago. She had worked hard in that country to save up for exactly this eventuality. But it took another year and a half and several false alarms and trips to the hospital before the sands of the hourglass finally ran out.
Needless to say, it took a toll on the family financially and psychologically. Confined in the ICU three days before expiring, she left behind a family that is still scrambling to cover the huge hospital bills. The savings she put aside had long been depleted. So I could understand why even after putting the late matriarch to eternal rest, the family can’t still breathe a big sigh of relief.
The Philippines is supposed to be a good place for sick elderly people where children and close relatives can be counted on to provide loving support until the very end.
Every Filipino family has a “designated martyr,” preferably a single female member, the “matandang dalaga” who will devote her life to caring for the parent till the end. The rest would be expected, of course, to visit from time to time, providing moral and financial support.
Times have apparently changed.
The traditional “designated martyr” is a thing of the past. When a bedridden and barely conscious parent keeps on breathing unendurably too long, whose turn to be by her side becomes a constant source of irritation and contention. So now the task is outsourced to an unemployed relative who is given a regular allowance. If budget allows it, the family hires a professional caregiver so they can all go on with their respective lives.
Which brings us also to the “hilian” (blame game) regarding money. Sometimes the richer member who has been so obliging at the beginning is made to realize by a whispering in-law that he should also oblige the other members to chip in too: “Bakit ikaw lang? Asan ambag nila?”
Do children owe their parents this kind of burden, which some call “utang na loob”? Are parents automatically entitled to this debt of obligation?
Ruminate on all of these before you tumble out of bed saying it’s a good day to live.
My wife and I have aging bodies. We are now both walking drug stores. Our respective medicine organizers are filled with all kinds of prescribed drugs. Fully filled on Sunday, empty the following Sunday and refilled for another week.
“Money seems to slip through my fingers,” is one line from the movie “Amadeus” that comes to mind as the small fund we stashed away for our end journey gets less and less. With inflation, it will never be enough to underwrite the costly travails we face while waiting at the departure lounge.
Call it pride, but I wouldn’t want to pass the burden to our children who are also finding it difficult to make ends meet during these inflationary times. It’s more a case of empathy.
I look at married young adult and middle-aged Filipinos who are now carrying the load of supporting two families: their own families and their parents living with them under the same roof.
I see my own son, a widowed single father with two fast growing children, hesitating to marry again. He would rather give his extra pay to us, his parents who have unending medical issues.
I feel rueful to note our two other adult children are foregoing marriage partly because they’re unwilling to leave us at this stage of our journey. I see my daughter devote her time to be at the side of my wife, her mother, waking up early even after only a brief sleep to accompany her to the doctor for every check-up as well as medical procedure she needs to undergo. She adamantly gives part of her income to my wife in spite of our objections.
This is why I resent seniors who feel entitled or demand to be pampered. Instead of being demanding, we need to show more consideration and more gratitude to our children.
When my son comes home at night, tired and hungry, my wife makes sure she has a hot good meal ready for him. At supper, I eat less, just to make sure there’s enough left for him later. We make sure his kids are well cared for, filling the absence of their late mom.
We show consideration when we are punctilious in maintaining our health. We eat right, sleep enough, exercise lightly, and take our medicines on schedule. We conscientiously monitor our vital signs and have regular check-ups. Why? To prevent the onset of sickness and having to be rushed to the hospital on an emergency. It’s the least we can do in return for the “sacrifices” our children are willing to do for us.
This is also partly the reason why I still accept consultancy work, to add to my measly monthly pension, and to replace the used-up “end journey” fund little by little, so our children wouldn’t have to cover for us.
It shouldn’t just be me. Able seniors should strive to be employable again and become financially independent so they can be better prepared for the ordeal of advanced stage of aging.
All it takes is a little re-motivation and re-training to be equipped with new know-how aligned with the times.
On the other hand, let’s motivate health insurance companies to re-think their policy of stopping medical insurance coverage at age 65. The irony is that age 65 and up is precisely the time when we need medical insurance the most! If need be, let government provide incentives to make it worthwhile for these insurers so they don’t lose money on payouts for seniors’ consultation and hospitalization expenses.
Someone once said, youth is wasted on the young. Equally, long old age can also be a waste of our young. Let’s make sure the demands of our prolonged aging does not dissipate and squander the opportunity of being young that all our children should enjoy.
To aging retirees like me: let’s not pass on the heavy burden too soon to our children.