Aging Alone

When my mother was in the final years of her life and suffering from dementia, she forgot the names of food and couldn’t tell us what she wanted to eat. But I remembered the meals she served us when I was growing up, so I prepared grilled cheese sandwiches, tuna salad, and sliced and salted avocado for her. But for those who don’t have children, who will remember their favorite foods when they’ve lost their memories?

After my father had a stroke and couldn’t read, talk coherently or play any of the three musical instruments he excelled at (harmonica, accordion, piano), I played for him, via Spotify, all the old familiar songs he and my mother sang when we were young, like “You Are My Sunshine” or “Red River Valley,” plus German polka music, his favorite. The music pierced through the foggy layers of his brain and got him to sing and tap his feet. Without children, who would remember the music that made him happiest?

Twelve million people over 65 in this country live alone (according to the Pew Research Center), and many in that group also are childless.  Unlike previous generations, many baby boomers did not have children, for various reasons, or are estranged from their children. My generation also had higher divorce rates than previous generations. All of this means a lot of seniors will have to navigate the hazards of getting older by themselves.

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