In our culture, we tend to make discussing death an unmentionable topic. We pretend that if we do not discuss it, it will not happen. We shy away from the elderly and people who are clearly terminally or mentally ill. I believe we do this partly because we do not know what to say; also, we have a fear of death itself. There is an obvious need for the elderly and their families to face the fact that the end is near.
It seems that the elderly know their time has come to die. They feel the approach of death throughout their bodies. Nevertheless, after old age comes death. That is simply a biological fact. Even when there is no terminal illness in sight, one is lurking around the corner.
Those of us who are not yet old will quite likely be kept alive even longer which will delay our facing the inevitable. This is partly due to better treatments for terminal conditions, which will mean that most of us will live so long and die so slowly.
My father was 87 years old and terminally ill with emphysema. He had said to me repeatedly, "I'm ready to die. I want to go meet Annie. Why does this have to take so long?" For him, and for an increasing number of Americans, the problem is no longer that death comes too soon but death comes too late and too slowly. He was ready to go to heaven and be with my mom, but I was not ready to let him go.
I fully understand the problem of how to pay for the care that the elderly and dying will need. When individuals or families cannot cover the cost, society will have to, for we cannot just let old people die in their apartments. Yet the amount of money society has set aside to cover such expenses is steadily disappearing. Our motto today in our society is, whenever possible, prolong life! Now, we face the excruciating moral issue of when to stop trying to save a life. We could prolong the life of this person if we choose, and we must decide how far to go with the effort.