I had no idea what the trigger might be to cause me to write this post, nevertheless I was certain that it would soon become apparent. And there it was, and article on politico.com entitled “How Trump makes us feel.” According to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, 13% of people surveyed decided to delay or to make the decision to not have children.
Why title this post “Behind Closed Doors?” It would surprise me if there weren’t a lot of elder orphans (or potential ones) who have had a conversation with their spouses or partners about the future, and the concerns that we would have for our children and grandchildren if we were fortunate enough to have any. It is however never a conversation that we initiate with our friends who have kids; unless of course they introduce the subject.
In recent comments by Stephen Hawking, the preeminent physicist, he has changed his outlook on the future of mankind to suggest that a catastrophic event for the human race is imminent. Not so long ago he was suggesting that in order to preserve earthlings we should be focusing on colonizing another planet in the next thousand years. Now he is view is that it should be more like 100 years.
According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists that publishes the Doomsday Clock, it’s now 2 ½ minutes to “midnight”, suggesting that the end of humanity may be near.
When we do engage in these conversations about the future prospects, it inevitably comes up that in their time our parents probably had a lot of concerns about our future too. Perhaps I was isolated from the consequences of the possibility of a nuclear holocaust but I look back on those days in the 50’s and 60’s as rather halcyon times. Yes, I recall that air-raid sirens were installed and tested throughout the land, and underground bunkers were constructed but I was never counseled to dive under a desk when the siren was activated. Perhaps our parents decided that if a nuclear war were to occur it would all be over quickly. If you survived the blast, the radiation would finish you off soon enough anyway. I suppose too that they looked upon it as completely out of their control, and in the hands of the politicians and the military.
Contrast this with the constant drip, drip, drip of today’s threats. The environment and global warming are high on the list. Whether you agree with all but a handful of climatologists and scientists that it is caused by humans or not, it is still a fact of life. We can expect more droughts and floods and I recently read that the oceans are rising much faster than was predicted just a few years ago. Then there are the social issues. The political left and right factions are coming to blows and protests abound; terrorism is a constant threat. . People all over the world are dying as a result of religious/political differences. The nuclear threat has never really disappeared but lately it has surfaced as a distinct danger on more than one front.
We are now learning about the likelihood that a huge group of people will arise who are referred to as the “Useless Class”. These are the people who will soon be replaced by robots and highly intelligent computers. What will become of them?
According to Oxfam the richest 1% now has as much wealth as the rest of the world combined. They also calculated that the richest 62 people in the world had as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population. Those who control the money also control the resources. What are the consequences of this trend?
Two years ago Stephen Hawking told the BBC that the development of full artificial intelligence, could spell the end of the human race. His was not the only voice warning of the dangers of Artificial Intelligence. Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak also expressed their concerns about where the technology was heading – though Professor Hawking’s was the most apocalyptic vision of a world where robots decide they don’t need us any more.
Although I’m sure that we can conjure up many more potential threats I’ll conclude this discussion with the mention of global pandemics. Experts warn us that we are in the position for a perfect storm for the viral emergence of a global infectious disease.
My disposition is normally that of a “glass is half full” person, and from a personal perspective I am optimistic that I as a Baby Boomer will not be alive long enough to experience the results of these calamities but I confess that do have concerns for the Gen Xers, the Millennials, and their children.
Have you had these conversations behind closed doors?
A healthcare power of attorney document designates a person to make medical decisions on your behalf if you can’t make them for yourself. Deciding who this person will be is an important decision, and the choice concerning whom you want to assume this responsibility should be carefully considered. This person may be called upon to decide if it would be in your best interests to put you on life support systems to keep you alive or to let nature take its course. Often a Healthcare Power Of Attorney is combined with the Living Will, a document that lets people state their own wishes for end-of-life medical care, in case they become unable to communicate their decisions
An Internet search will quickly yield many sources for information both Healthcare Power Of Attorney and Living Will legal documents.
For non-elder orphans, they can likely conjure up some candidates from their family or friends, but for us it might be a challenge to convince someone to accept this important role. Although I accepted the responsibility for both of my parents, fortunately I was never required to invoke it. The circumstances of their passing were predictable.
The question then arises as to how you would respond if someone were to ask you if you agree to be named in their Healthcare Power Of Attorney. If you are a family member, you are probably not left with a choice other than to agree. However without a connection would you be willing to take on that responsibility? For me, this would not be a decision that I would embrace. My first question might be “Isn’t there someone else who could do this?” The importance of the responsibilities of this role cannot be over exaggerated. It could be a matter of life or death.
Since the circumstance where these decisions are made often arise very suddenly, I suggest that it would be extremely difficult to offer one by listening to a physician explain the circumstances and then ask someone on a long distance phone call to make it. I’m not sure if standing by the person’s bed side and holding their hand would make it any easier.
In wills created for disposition of property, as we will address eventually, it is possible to seek out a lawyer or other entity to assume the role of executor or trustee, but I have yet to discover one that would assume the responsibility to decide whether a person who is likely ,for the most part, if not completely unknown to them. The default decision would of course be to continue life support in the absence of a living will.
At this stage in our existence, our financial affairs should be inconsequential and I have to hope that we have not designed them in way that would permit anyone to benefit as a result of a decision as to whether we live or we die.
Last month I read anarticlein The Boston Globe by Billy Barker entitled “The biggest threat facing middle-age men isn’t smoking or obesity. It’s loneliness.” A great deal of it resonated with me but one sentence in particular caught my attention. It was this. “Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general of the United States, has said many times in recent years that the most prevalent health issue in the country is not cancer or heart disease or obesity. It is isolation.”
The essayy caused me to reflect on my life and the friends both in it and those that have passed through it. I doubt that loneliness or isolation was a concept that I understood as a boy on a diary farm in southern Ontario. Most of my time when I wasn’t entertaining myself was spent with my parents or the farm pets. In the one-room school that I attended I made more friends and of course on the bus ride to and from high school even more. And I think at the time that although it was assumed that we would all eventually be married and rear our own families that our bonds would continue for all time.
And then my parents moved to a more distant city and I with them. All my old friends were at least an hour’s drive away, and other than family I had no friends. Soon after the move I went to work and I think that nearly all of the people that I called friends were people that I worked with. And so it continued for most of my life and as I moved from one job or career to another, so would my circle of friends evolve, keeping some and adding some new ones. I acquired some new friends through membership in service clubs and other organizations. And throughout it all the thought never really crossed my mind that I didn’t have enough friends but always left room for a few more.
However, it never occurred to me how great the impact of a career was on my circle of friends until I retired. Suddenly a lot of those people that I could depend on to share a story regularly over a coffee or a sandwich were gone. Now I cherish even more those who remain.
And as for those high school friends that I thought that I would never lose contact with, I haven’t heard from any of them in fifty years. In some ways I envy a few acquaintances who have managed to stay in close contact with people that they have know from their early childhood school days. Of course it was moving away from the place where we lived that severed the relationships but it would still be comforting to have maintained those links.
Fortunate are those elderorphans who enjoy the luxury of having a lot of friends. One day soon I hope that we can have a discussion addressing how we can all meet and keep new ones. The record seems to suggest that most women are much better at this than men. What can we learn from them?