Really, I am trying not to take this personally, but it seems clearer every day that our federal government is choosing to open the economy at the expense of older Americans. When I say “expense” I’m not talking dollars; I’m talking survival.
A few indisputable facts:
• America has an agonizing challenge ahead. Covid-19 cases are surging in many states, and many hospitals are once again in danger of being overwhelmed.
• Ninety-five percent of coronavirus deaths occur in people over 60 years of age. A crushing number of people have died in elder-care facilities across the country.
• We are months away from any breakthrough treatment, and possibly longer than that for a viable vaccine.
• Children need to get educated, and they need to get out of the house to play and meet friends. If not, we will have a generation of kids growing up with their own unique psychological problems as a result of living through a pandemic.
Clearly, the needs of the children are in direct conflict with the need to protect our older people. The children always have to come first, but it isn’t an either/or situation. The problem can be addressed reasonably well.
As the epidemiologists have told us, widespread testing, universal protections, like masks and shields, and respect for medical guidelines, to maintain social distance, can allow our kids and grandkids some of the social freedom they need and still help keep older people safe from contagion.
This isn’t perfect, but it isn’t rocket science, either. We need a coordinated effort to put in place safety measures so our economy can stumble forward and our children can return to some kind of schooling.
None of this is happening now. We don’t just have a vacuum of leadership, we have a toxic message spewing from President Trump and his minions that undermines medical advice and seems indifferent to the threat to older folks. There is a receptive audience for this message. Sacrificing Grandma and Grandpa seems to be the price many are willing to pay in order sit at a bar, attend a rally or party with friends.
Senicide (a word I just learned) is the killing of older people or abandoning them to certain death. It is a practice that took a while to gain traction in America, but apparently we are cozying up to the idea. Senicide has been practiced since ancient times by cultures around the world. Though illegal in India, thalaikoothal is still practiced in some remote villages as a form of “mercy killing.” In ancient Nordic cultures, attestupa was the custom of old people jumping or being pushed off high cliffs. In rural China, among the Inuit, helping people to their final destination was an acceptable way to conserve resources for the young.
And now, in the United States of America, the bean counters are accepting a certain number of deaths in exchange for opening the local tattoo parlors. I never imagined senicide as part of the American experience. Until now. I see Trump humphing and pfumphing about pushing kids back into school and opening “Main Street,” and I hear the unspoken calculus that a boost to the economy will require a culling of the over-60 population.
That doesn’t have to be the deal. There is another way to move forward without stepping over the bodies of our elders. Masks really work. Social distancing is effective. To me, it follows that people who gather in groups without masks are willfully putting their older loved ones at great risk.
Since the president has abdicated leadership over the pandemic, it is up to the governors and mayors to find their backbone and their moral conscience and make masks and distancing the law of the land.
For my baby boomer brothers and sisters, we need to take care of ourselves, and that means staying relatively isolated, so our grown children won’t have the additional burden of caring for us. That means not connecting physically with our grandkids, as we did before the pandemic. No hugs and kisses for the moment. We can welcome one another with open arms as soon as it’s safe to embrace; in the meantime, this is what we must do.
My friends and I joke darkly that if Covid-19 rages on, tens of thousands of the older generation will die sooner rather than later, Medicare will have fewer claims, younger people will inherit ahead of schedule, and it will all be just dandy.
If you can live with it.
Copyright 2020 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.