Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Life's Scutwork


There was an article recently in the news about compensating the sibling who ends up living with an elderly parent and being the final care-giver while the other siblings live their lives.

Such a sibling sacrifices career building prospects, personal funds, and a huge swatch of their emotional well-being (i.e. the internal image of the parent held dear for the rest of life.)

Truths come out that don't otherwise impact the child's life.

So, this article suggested legal documentation (such as the Will) should provide compensation for the care-giver sibling.

In most families this would be considered a horrible travesty -- such care is given from love. If it's for money or material wealth, then the care itself is sullied.

So it's one of those situations that has to be thought about from all points of view (thus of course making it fodder for story ideas -- plot-bunnies under the bed.)

Our society has distanced this dying process by providing "hospice" care either in the home (by choice usually -- but it's the cheaper choice though it requires a family member be there at night at least) -- or in a hospital like environment. I've seen a couple really LOVELY hospice buildings, but I feel them as lonely and isolated. Family and friends visit seldom and for short times -- it's depressing.

But Linnea brings up a very interesting point in this regard. In Japan I think -- or maybe it's Microsoft or a combination -- there is a household chores robot in development. It's already pretty good and will be affordable - at least to rent when you really need it.

I've toyed with the dramatic elements of the emotional impact of being relegated to the care of machines.

A.I. shows some promise, but a real "personality" a human being can interact with is a long way off. Our robots show no signs of becoming "alive" as in the film NUMBER FIVE IS ALIVE.

But we have a very small generation getting set to give final care to a huge generation - the Boomers.

SF and Romance both have a great deal to say about the permutations and combinations of situations that could arise.

How about if a sibling care-giver is so badly "stuck" with a parental situation they can't physically manage, have put their own life on hold and feel they're getting older too fast -- and gets seduced into voluntarily becoming a vampire?

What if such a turned care-giver accidentally drank their parent dry? (or on purpose?)

How could the law deal with that? How could the siblings deal with that?

What if this happened a century ago and everyone in that situation is long gone except the vampire-caregiver? What emotional toll would that take?

What if there's a disease that evolves (like a virus) that kills vampires but not humans. After all, if vampires multiply and associate with each other, there's an empty ecological niche waiting for something to crawl in and occupy it, vampire infections.

Now the care-giver who voluntarily became a vampire gets this disease (he/she probably helped evolve) and another vampire has to give the last century of care to this sick elder (postulating a vampire would take a long time to die of a virus.)

Could love resolve that conflict? Maybe -- if ghosts are real in this built world.

At any rate, I think the plight of the final care-giver abandoned by family to go-it-alone should be closely examined and fiction is a good tool for that job.

Live Long and Prosper,
Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. What about holographic domestic help? I've written a dozen or so stories for Middle Graders based on the childhood of the Star Captains' Daughter. In the first one, Junior at about eight years old is driving everyone crazy because she has Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. She accidentally programs a holographic representation of the ship's female computer voice. Stella eventually becomes sentient like Star Trek Voyager's Doctor. Though Junior's mother is a little 'wierded-out' about this, Dr. Freeman believes it's better to have a holographic nanny who never needs sleep to help with Junior rather than to medicate her. So, in the context of science fiction, it works for me so long as the hologram or android is sentient. Who wouldn't want Data to babysit?

    Welcome back, Jacqueline! I always miss your columns when you miss a week.

  2. Super post, Jacqueline! Interesting thoughts about choosing vampirism. Vampire fiction often suggests that immortality could be a curse rather than a blessing. Of course, that idea goes way back (although not in connection with vampires). There's a subclass of immortals in Swift's GULLIVER'S TRAVELS whose lot is miserable rather than blessed. The philosophy that family care-giving shouldn't be compensated by pay because it's done from love does incite some provocative questions. My first thought is that it's another case where women have traditionally been expected to do (and be grateful for the opportunity to do) "for love" jobs that nobody would do for money if he or she had any other saleable skills. Our culture gives lip-service to the tremendous importance of motherhood and homemaking, yet in practice we see how little respect that role gets -- perhaps in large part because there's no monetary scale to measure it by. I'm reminded, by contrast, of the paid "professional parent" role in J. D. Robb's futuristic novels. RL example, BTW: Stephen King's mother became the family's designated caretaker for her elderly parents, because she desperately needed to make a living for herself and her children. Her other siblings,IIRC, got together and arranged for her financial support while she lived with their parents and did all the housework and personal care duties.