I saw a play last weekend called Assisted Living. It was about a sister and brother who were feuding over appropriate caregivers for their mother — an acid-tongued woman who needed full-time care. The daughter was by turns angry, self-pitying and kind — well, more than kind — to the young male nurse. Her feckless brother showed up with his overflowing sack of guilt and resentment, plus a pregnant girlfriend. Mom broke a hip, had surgery, and came back home.
So many questions, so many opinions, so much dysfunction, self-pity and grief: all the issues a family faces when it comes time to decide "who's on first" with the failing parent.
The baby was born and the play ended on a Beatles We Can Work It Out moment. Really?
Now let's think about another song by one of the Beatles, John Lennon's Imagine.
Imagine all the people
Living for today...
It got me to thinking. We spend so much on the so-called quality of life — or dying — for sick, older people. Be it live-in help, assisted living, supported living, nursing homes, hospice, whatever, it's all there, and it costs plenty, no matter who's paying.
Imagine no possessions I wonder if you can
But what about helpless children — the ones with really miserable lives of abuse, hunger, sickness, lousy homes, lousy parents, lousy education — the ones you see on the news several times a week — shot on their way to school, shot sitting in their living rooms, or shot running the streets at night.
What if we spent the same amount on these children that we spend on people at the end of life?
Years ago I was a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer. One case I had dealt with addicted and abusive parents trying to get their children back (one of whom had mysteriously disappeared). Another was a young gang-rape victim whose parents couldn't/wouldn't care for her. I remember sitting in court behind a young clean-cut couple (not my case), and it became apparent that he had murdered their youngest by throwing her against a wall. They were trying to get the rest of their children back while he awaited trial.
The juvenile justice system is committed to returning children to their parents, just as the eldercare system is committed to keeping people alive, or at least comfortable. Both systems have a lot of wonderful people working in them and both systems have failure built in.
You may say I'm a dreamer, But I'm not the only one
Here's what I imagine. When I am diagnosed with something from which I will not recover, I would like an estimate of what it would cost to treat me until I die. Then I would like the choice to designate those funds for the treatment of abused children. Sort of like this: "I've signed my papers, so why don't you skip the red jello tonight and bring me one of those nice, big 'see y'all later' injections. Oh, and can you play some John Lennon?"
No need for greed or hunger, A brotherhood of man
Here's my idea for what is called wrap-around care. I'd like it to serve families except I'm really thinking about little kids. What you call it doesn't matter. Its purpose is to do everything to give kids a chance. Such centers would have "family planning," day care, an elementary school, a policeman, as many social workers as it takes, medical care, job training and job placement for eligible caregivers, three meals a day, temporary shelter for the homeless, whatever it takes.
It would be very expensive, but kids and families would have a chance. Nursing homes are very expensive, too, and you don't come out alive.
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