It is one of the most vexing chapters of old age: how to navigate not just the inevitable ending, but the days and months immediately before it. As the bonds of support and dependency change, how do we tell our children that it is O.K. to say goodbye? And how do we tell our parents that it is O.K. to go?
As predictable as death in old age has become, families still have little guidance for the last stretch of life.
The vocabulary of loss and grief, which can bloom into eloquence after someone’s death, is of no use in the weeks or months leading up to it. Instead, there is language suited to war: the battle against illness or refusal to quit, the heroic struggle whose linguistic alternative is failure or giving up.
How do we want to spend our last days, and what do we want of our loved ones?
Helen Moses and her daughter, Zoe Gussoff, never discussed how Helen wanted to live her last days for a simple reason: Ms. Gussoff did not accept that her mother would ever die.
She showers once a week, and for the next six weeks—approximately four months into our new pandemic normal—I will be the one to bathe her. Her...