Q. What kinds of brainstorming can others do?
A. If a parent is at home, insinuate someone into the household who isn't necessarily a professional to get them used to the idea of having somebody else around and getting a little help. My friend's mother, an intellectual, had a big apartment and was very isolated. She was not at the stage where she needed home health aides, and my friend thought it would be better to have another pair of eyes in the house. He suggested she take in a graduate student.
Q. At the end of your mother's life, she was totally incapacitated and suffering, and decided to stop eating. Did you have an end-of-life conversation with her?
A. Yes, the fact that my mother and I weren't attached the way she and my brother were made it much less emotional for me. For many adult children, this is a very difficult conversation. In my family, it was one my brother was incapable of having with her. In my experience, both with my mother and as a reporter, an older person is much more comfortable and even eager to talk about end-of-life issues — what they want and don't want. They may not bring it up because they're trying to protect you. Even if this conversation doesn't come as easily as it came to my mother and me, it's the adult child's responsibility to provide openings for that conversation no matter how uncomfortable, scared or sad it makes you.
Q. Do you worry about who will mother you when you need it?
A. Absolutely. I'm 63 years old, single and childless. I realize that the odds are overwhelming that hired help will take care of me. In my fantasy, I'm rocking on the porch of some fabulous cohousing kind of place with all my girlfriends, but I can't plan that because most of them are married and have children. I'm acutely aware of what this can potentially cost and am as well prepared financially as I can possibly be.
Q. How do you think your mother would rate the job you did taking care of her?
A. Way up there.
Sally Abrahms writes on aging and boomers for national magazines, newspapers and websites. She is based in Boston.