A few years ago on a gorgeous June day, I found myself in a windowless bathroom with forget-me-not wallpaper, my butt on a toilet, without any good reason to be there. It was a standard mothering move. Beyond the door, I could hear my two small kids laughing and eating cereal, so I stayed in this little space, smartphone in hand. In an hour, I was headed to a bowling alley with my kids, both of whom could now walk through a doorway on their own. And this was a brilliant new development, not just for the 2-year-old who’d learned to walk at the standard age, but for the 4-year-old, Fiona, who’d spent the past three and a half years in physical therapy striving toward this lofty goal. Forty-five percent of people with Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome walk, said the report when I first got her diagnosis. Her ability to walk meant I no longer had to consider wheelchair or stroller accessibility. Her ability to walk independently meant she could navigate the tight turns around a bowling ball return without having to steer a clunky walker. So I was taking my kids bowling, as soon as I stopped pretend-peeing and reading on my phone.
I was reading a friend’s blog post about a recent appointment with her counselor. As soon as she mentioned her son, who has the same chromosomal syndrome as my daughter, she began to cry.
The therapist asked, “Why do you always cry when you talk about him in here?”
In here was the therapist’s office, maybe a subdued room with sage walls and elephant statuettes. Out there, my friend pushed her 4-year-old son in a wheelchair.
My friend looked up at the ceiling a moment and thought. Why do I always cry when I talk about him in here? The answer hit her, and she sobbed. She managed this sentence, eked out between heaving breaths: “Because … out there … when I’m talking … about him … I have to smile.”
I put my hand over my mouth. The windowless bathroom. The forget-me-not wallpaper. I burst into tears.
The prospect of dying broke looms as an imminent threat for the boomer generation, which vastly expanded the middle class and looked hopefully...