June 21, 2010

Things to consider as your parents age

katy butler, new york times, end of life care

Tricycle contributing editor Katy Butler recently interviewed Jeff Bridges for our upcoming August issue, and, as frequent visitors to our site know by now, you can watch Jeff and Bernie Glassman shooting the breeze in our two-part online interview.

Katy is a longtime contributor to Tricycle and an accomplished journalist in her own right. Her sharp reporter's eye and compelling style are both in full evidence in her recent New York Times Magazine article "What Broke My Father's Heart." And while it nearly broke my own, the upside is that Katy provided me with plenty of helpful things to consider as my parents age.

Ironically, while so many Americans suffer from the lack of health care, many others suffer because of the advances in medical technology that keep people alive far beyond what they would have wished. There are responsible decisions family members can make if they have the relevant information, although not all doctors have it or are willing to give it. Katy's article will give you an idea of what you may face and how to avoid the needless suffering her family endured.

Tricycle editor-at-large Andrew Cooper, who has been around since the Buddhist Stone Age, writes:

If one can speak of such a thing as Buddhist journalism, then Katy is, as much as anyone, one of its originators and still one its finest practitioners. This article is a deeply touching personal story that also reports on the tragic consequences that even the relatively affluent are vulnerable to in our profit-driven health care system.

For more helpful advice, you might also want to check out Joan Halifax's article "The Lucky Dark: A guide to allowing a gentle and meaningful death for our loved ones and for ourselves."

Not always a topic people want to discuss, but it's never too soon to discuss end-of-life issues. One way or another, our deaths and the deaths of our loved ones are inevitable; the only decision we can make is whether or not we want to prepare for it. For more useful tips on the latter—and for something a little more upbeat in tone—check out this.

Photo: Eugene Richards for the New York Times. The photo on the wall is of Katy Butler's parents as a young couple.

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Don’t Miss Katy Butler’s Piece in The New York Times Magazin's picture

[...] post about this article a lot sooner, but I didn’t get around to it.  The gang over at the Tricycle Editors’ Blog did a better job of touting it than I could, though.  Katy Butler is a really remarkable and [...]

Katy Butler's picture

Thank you, Andy.
If there is such a thing as Buddhist journalism, I believe its practice rests in being willing to write and rewrite, getting closer and closer to things as they are rather than clinging to one's first comforting notion of what the story is. The writing reveals the false notes, the self-pleading. In rewriting, we make ourselves as well as the text. And "real life" turns out to be more wonderful, after all, than the notion we first clung to.
My mother was a dedicated practitioner without making a fuss about it. She rose at dawn, (an hour and a half before my increasingly demented and dependent father) and did a body scan meditation to Jon Kabat-Zinn's tape, and then yoga and sitting. "It was wonderful and I felt I could face whatever came my way," she wrote in her journal, and what came her way before the sun set each day was considerable. She did her best to bloom where she was planted. She faced death straight on, writing in her journal, ACCEPT ACCEPT ACCEPT. As she and I struggled to make moral decisions about not prolonging my father's life, however, I wished for more discussion with others, in Buddhist language. (Of course, Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed never faced questions of feeding tubes, pacemakers, and compulsory extension of life.) I would like to ask Tricycle readers about the most difficult decision they've faced in caring for their parents, and whether their Buddhist training was of any help.
Thank you.

mary's picture

Thank you ~ a beautiful story.