But Who Will Take Care of You When You’re Old and Dying – Poem


When I am dead my friends
can send me off, tell
small stories to a sparse
congregation, notify
the local papers, select
the right burial dress.
Better yet, I’ll take care of it
myself, script steps in advance
so no one has to worry.
What I learned from you
was to rely on no one,
so when you ask
who will care for me
when I’m unable, I wonder how
having children excuses you
from such worries. I’d like the one
who gets that job to be a stranger,
and get paid for the burden; I intend
to be a lot of trouble when I’m old.
I want nothing I love to suffer
my undoing; I leave all my unborn
children formless and free
in the airy nothingness
to which I’ll return
when my work here is done.

For years this was the refrain in my family growing up. If you don’t have children, who will take care of you when you’re old? When I was in my 20’s I lived with a woman in her 60’s who made the outrageous statement that she had no desire to burden her children with her care in her older years, and that she’d already made arrangements for when and where she was to be moved when she could no longer care for herself. This was a shocking statement to someone who’d been told her whole life that it was not only her duty to tend to the elderly in the family no matter what (even if they never gave a crap about you or cared for you at all), but it was also her duty to have children to provide all the elderly in the family with more caretakers. It really changed my outlook on the whole concept. I’m not saying one should not take care of one’s older family members when they’re sick, but the idea that parents are just going to expect their children to tend to them without even trying to provide for and take care of themselves first before demanding it no longer feels completely appropriate to me. Besides which, it’s a pretty selfish reason to have kids.