07 January, 2019

Who will advocate for the childless?

A friend reminded me of a discussion we had a couple of years ago, after she had advocated strongly for her father in hospital before he died. Like me, and Bamberlamb, she had also suffered ectopics and infertility, and has no children. So she was, inevitably, wondering about who could advocate for her in her old age.

Since we had the discussion, my mother was hospitalised (needing advocacy) and died, and most recently, my mother-in-law also experienced this.

I have a few thoughts. The first is that having children doesn’t mean they’ll be there to advocate for you. When I was there for my mother in her penultimate hospitalisation, the elderly woman in the bed next to her was alone. Her son lived about two hours away, but hadn’t visited. He wasn’t even picking her up to take her home (when she was being discharged on a Friday). She had to rely on friends.

The second is that even having children who are there to advocate for you doesn’t mean that they’ll advocate the way you want them too. As we found recently with the in-laws, there were four different approaches from each of the siblings, and at least one wasn’t prepared to take into account his mother’s wishes. She was vulnerable and needed someone to speak for her, but only one or two did. So it wasn’t entirely the end-of-life experience she would have hoped for.

None of that of course makes it any easier when we are thinking about who will advocate for us. In terms of needing someone with a Power of Attorney, there are people – lawyers or representatives – who will do this for us. (I learned this from a retirement home). Or I have nieces and nephews who may be able to do this for me, but they won’t necessarily be there when I need them to advocate for me if I am in hospital or at end-of-life stages, simply because they live a distance away. Though of course, you don’t need to be present to be in contact – either with me, or with doctors etc. So it could work. I was thinking this morning, too, about my only adult niece living in NZ, and realised that I don’t know enough about her views to know how she would behave if I was vulnerable and needing her. Of course, I may meet some other younger people in my life who could play this role for me. But I can’t rely on that.

The key, I think, would be to put appropriate Powers of Attorney in place before we start to lose competency, so that it is appropriately drawn up. I would make sure that my wishes are appropriately outlined so as to give the person holding the POA guidance. After my MIL’s death, I can tell you that at least one brother-in-law and his wife went home and documented in detail what their wishes would be in a variety of circumstances. My SIL’s bottom line: “If I can’t use my phone, then pull the plug!” I know I need to do this too. Because if we haven’t made our wishes known, then how will anyone know what we would have wanted?

So once again, my only solution to this conundrum, the only thing I feel I can do to keep a small semblance of control, is to plan. In detail. Looking at all possible circumstances, and in terms of my wishes, and legal protections.

The first step to doing this though is to start thinking. To face facts. Ask the “what-if” questions, and answer them. However much we hope we won’t find ourselves in these circumstances. If we won’t have people to advocate for us, then we need to advocate for ourselves. We can do this, as much as possible, simply by planning and then – most importantly – making our wishes known in advance. Time-travel advocacy!

Note: I have decided that this year I am going to abandon my efforts to stick to an eight-sentence limit for Microblog Monday posts.


  1. Dear Mali, I totally agree with you about the planning. I was thinking about it when I stayed with my parents-in-law over Christmas. They are not in good shape and are reluctant to plan anything to make their life easier (even things we would be ready to organise for them), because they count on their children in case they need help.
    So I wondered what I would do to manage my old age better than them, and I came to the same conclusion as you. Actually, I think I would have come to this conclusion even if I had children, because I experience how exhausting it is to take care of elderly people who didn’t plan anything, especially when you are living far away. And if course you can never be sure that your children will be around when you need them.

  2. Planning is so important, so adulting. Yet many adults don't plan, especially for something like this. It strikes me as I read through your thinking that planning is both a gift to the planner and a gift to the ones who may put the plan into place. No guessing.

    What a gift. I need to do this for myself.