Someone said we are ‘abandoning’ our parents when they die in the hospital.  What does ‘abandonment’ mean?

The Kentuckian Wendell Berry has written about this issue in his short stories about the changes occurring in American rural life.


In one, “Fidelity” [1992], he describes a man dying of lung cancer:  a farmer who loved the outdoors, farming, and hunting; who avoided doctors, looked after himself and others all his life, until he became sick in his 80’s and his family made him go to the doctor, who then admitted him to hospital.

He writes:  “When they returned on yet another visit and found the old body still as it had been, a mere passive addition to the complicated machines that kept it minimally alive, they saw finally that in their attempt to help they had not helped but only complicated his disease beyond their power to help.   …  Loving him, wanting to help him, they had given him over to ‘the best of modern medical care’—which meant, as they now saw, that they had abandoned him.”

I interpret this to mean that our seniors look to us—their children/friends/relatives/physicians—to look after them when the end-of-life approaches.  But, we often feel ‘helpless’ when managing this time of transition to the next life; so we look to professionals who assume we want the patient kept alive as long as possible, even if that means futile care causing suffering [for both the patient and the family].

Mr. Berry is encouraging us to accept the inevitability of death; and once we see it coming, to then enjoy life on our own terms, among those who love  us and know us best.

No one wants to be abandoned; it is a common fear among seniors, and we need to reassure them they will not be; something hospice can definitely help with.