In 2007 I found myself in a situation we all dread: witnessing my mother’s declining health and doing everything I could to help her in what turned out to be her last year of life. With the hindsight of ten years, I now look back on that time as one of despair and helplessness as I watched her grow progressively more ill and ultimately pass away. But I also remember it as deeply intimate, precious, irreplaceable time with her that I cherish.
In many respects, we were lucky. My mother had excellent health care coverage (both public and private) and a network of skilled healthcare providers who knew her well. We were able to find a place for her at an assisted living facility that accepted public payment when she could no longer live alone safely. She received top-notch care through several inpatient hospital stays, including her last. Throughout that difficult, final year we had with her, our family was treated with respect, and had the benefit of consultations with palliative care and hospice specialists when the time came to make critical decisions.
In spite of all this good fortune, it was incredibly complicated and difficult to navigate the systems of care (and payment!) to secure what she needed. We are well educated, resourceful, able to anticipate what was to come, and capable of navigating bureaucracies, but there were still times we ran into roadblocks we could not surmount. I don’t know how families with language barriers, prohibitive demands on their time, gaps in knowledge about how to negotiate complex systems, or other competing stressors in their lives do it.
What is true is that many don’t. Too many people in this country still die without the support they need to end their lives well.
Beginning this fall, NCG will be partnering with our members to explore how philanthropy can help transform the end of life experience in the Bay Area and beyond. These issues touch all of us at some point, and we are fortunate to be part of a committed community of people who are working to make things better.
I hope you will join us.