No, it's not death, but close. It's Long Term Care--what we'll all probably need if we aren't cut down in our prime by cancer, cardiac arrest, a drunk driver or someone with a gun.
Have you clicked me into oblivion yet?
Inspired by my mother, whose insurance is saving her descendants from financial ruin now that she's in a nursing home, last fall I researched the average costs long term care in Vermont. I realized that the insurance my husband and I had signed up for in our carefree forties was woefully inadequate.
There followed a flurry of phone calls and consultations with agents and financial planners. Large packets of information, featuring disconcertingly white-haired young people on the covers, arrived in the mail. My husband and I endless hours over these, comparing apples to oranges and avocados and forcing ourselves to speculate on the vagaries of fate: how long did we expect to live? Of what did we think we would die? Would we, alone or together, stay in our house to the bitter end, and if so, would we need assistance with the "activities of daily living"? Or would we prefer a nursing home, and would we want a private or a semi-private room?
Who wants to think about this stuff?
But we gritted our teeth and thought of our descendants and filled out the applications. Next, the insurance companies told us, they would request our medical records, and then they would send a nurse to our house to look us over for physical and mental flaws.
Yesterday afternoon we had our home visit. It was conducted by a friendly local nurse who insisted on meeting our dogs. After a cursory physical exam came the cognitive part. I must confess that being put on the spot to do simple multiplication and division in my head freaked me out a little, since it reminded me of third grade and my German nuns.
The other questions were easier, but I found them more disturbing because they gave me insight into the depths of deterioration that the insurance company anticipated of someone of my advanced years. One question was, where would I store ice cream? I came close to messing up on this one--we haven't had ice cream in the house in ages, and I almost said "the fridge" instead of "the freezer." What, the nurse wanted to know next, would I do if I accidentally swallowed poison? Then she asked me to walk from the dining room into the kitchen and back, while she timed me.
Is it possible that one day I won't know where the ice cream goes? That I'll swallow bleach by mistake and won't know who to call? That I'll barely be able to make it from the kitchen to the dining room? The answer, of course, is yes.
Ash Wednesday is coming soon. Every year while I was in school the priest would trace a cross of ashes on our childish foreheads while he muttered pulvus eris et pulvus reverteris--dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return. These days one doesn't get many formal reminders of mortality or of the deterioration that will most likely precede it. I should be grateful to Mutual of Omaha for reminding me of what actuarial tables show with depressing certainty: that none of us lives forever, that we cannot count on retaining even the humblest skills--walking to the kitchen, knowing where to put the ice cream--while we are still alive. And that we'd better strengthen our spiritual and emotional muscles so we'll be able deal with the future, when it comes.