The long farewell to parents

AGEING / More people are getting older, but there are fewer to take care of them.

Papa stirbt, Mama auch
Author: Maren Wurster
Publisher: Hanser, Germany

The memoir Papa stirbt, Mama auch (Dad dies, Mom too) is written by the Berlin-based author Maren Wurster. Wurster studied film science and philosophy in Cologne and literary writing at the German Literature Institute in Leipzig. In this book, she writes about her seriously ill father, who is in intensive care, and her mother, who suffers from dementia.

The child’s perspective in the book title makes it universal and emotional for anyone who has experienced, is experiencing, or will experience the death of their parents. Wurster is an independent woman, a single mother to a young boy, and in the middle of her life when her parents become ill and dependent on daily care. The caregiver roles are reversed. The daughter, an only child, becomes the caregiver. She rushes back and forth between the nursing home and the hospital, just as her parents once rushed back and forth from daycare and school for her.

In this long farewell to her parents, we witness family bonds strengthening, childhood memories resurfacing, emotions reactivated, and confirmation of family patterns that were thought to have disappeared.

The father just wants to die right away, and the mother does not want to go to the nursing home. Wurster describes a powerful scene where she picks up her mother from Stuttgart to Berlin, where her mother realizes that they have not arrived at a pension but a nursing home: «Her whimpering turns into screaming. She screams my name. {…} She grabs my arm and holds on tight. I break free and start running.»

This is the reality for Wurster and her dying parents in the institution – and for many others in similar situations around the world, in so-called welfare states. She is very present with her dying parents, and they receive good treatment where they are, according to Wurster. But there are not many parents who are as lucky as hers.

Maren Wurster
Maren Wurster

Eldercare in Norway

Elderly care in Norway has been strongly criticized in light of NRK’s Brennpunkt documentary series Omsorg bak lukkede dører (Care behind closed doors) (January 2023). In today’s Norway, the elderly are treated indignantly. We are becoming more elderly, and fewer people are taking care of them. Many family members feel helpless because they cannot devote all their time to their parents. The elderly often do not get a place in a nursing home and must live at home, under undignified conditions – with disrespectful home care staff who do not give their full attention to the patients, and who do not perform their job with empathy and humanity. The last years, which should really be the golden years of life, become a suffering.

In the past, death was more a part of life. Family, friends, and acquaintances gathered around the person on their deathbed. Today, the dying and seriously ill are placed in institutions, as the extended family concept no longer exists to the same extent, and times have changed. We no longer want to see death and let healthcare professionals take care of it instead. That is why many are afraid to die. This is a dangerous trend. We must not fear death throughout our lives. Death is still a part of life, and we need to have a relaxed attitude toward it and old age. We should not have to dread getting older. But perhaps it is not so strange that we do anyway, when society has not prepared well enough for old age.

In the 1980s, a shift occurred in elderly care in Norway. The idea was that seniors should stay in their own homes for as long as possible. The «Safe at Home» reform aims to allow older people to live in their own homes as long as they can and want to. The goal is for it to be safe and comfortable to live at home – something that is often not the case, as Brennpunkt documentaries have shown.

According to new figures from the Norwegian Directorate of Health, the problem of malnutrition in nursing homes has increased in recent years. In 2021, the proportion of undernourished was 46 percent, according to the Directorate’s national quality indicator. Our seniors live an undignified life. The Norwegian Minister of Health and Care Services, Ingvild Kjerkol (Ap), recently stated to NRK that we must take greater responsibility for our own old age.

Our welfare state cannot take care of the elderly. In Norway, there are now over one million pensioners. In 17 years, we will need up to 90,000 new employees in municipal health and care, according to figures from Statistics Norway.

Germany and Austria

Wurster’s topic is relevant. The situation in Germany and Austria is no better than in Norway. In Austria, three female healthcare workers in their 30s and 40s and a 36-year-old male healthcare worker are currently accused of abusing and mistreating patients in a nursing home (SeneCura). They attempted to put them in a medically induced coma during the pandemic from March 2020 to 2021, when visits from relatives were not allowed and there were no medical check-ups.

According to a controversial report from the German Social Association (SoVD), at least 10,000 people died in German nursing homes in 2004 due to inadequate care. According to Gabriele Hesseken, health and care policy spokesperson for the SoVD, the situation at many of the 8,440 elderly centers with a total of 717,000 places (as of 2006) is dramatic: «It is the biggest social and human catastrophe since World War II.» And it continues to be so.

Our website features Amazon affiliate links, and we may earn a commission from purchases made through those links.

Pinar Ciftci
Pinar Ciftci
Regular writer in Modern Times Review.

You might also likeRELATED
Recommended to you

To be a stranger in one’s own town

IRAQ: The Iraqi journalist Ghaith Abdul-Ahad has written an excellent book that dispels the typical view of a sectarian and divided society as the main cause of Iraq's long and continuing tragedy.

An anti-anti-racism

RACISM: A neo-conservative movement has made its virtue to 'expose' the political agenda of critical race theory.

Is anyone listening?

ANTHROPOLOGY:A study revealing that systematic torture is part of contemporary democracies

The end – and beginning – of history

ALBANIA: The country's transformation was fraught with difficulties. On the altar of freedom, factories went bankrupt, jobs disappeared, and thousands fled to Italy on overcrowded ships.

What tricks does the Catholic right have to define itself as the centre of Europe

THE WEST: European culture is «characterized by a melancholic feeling due to its alienation or inferiority towards a source that evokes a nostalgic feeling.» Really?

When the world is really on fire

EU: Europe never became an adult or responsible player in a multipolar world. A common foreign and security policy has never gone beyond the sketch. Will it happen now?
- Advertisement -spot_img