For 13 days this month, I was cocooned in the hospital with my almost-97-year-old mother who battled pneumonia with all the tools of modern medicine. After realizing that she could not recover, and after my dad had a heartbreaking conversation with her about her wishes and options, we moved her into hospice in the hospital. She died at dawn the next morning, surrounded by her children and husband of 72 years.
"Cocooned" may seem an odd word choice, but, in truth, for those two weeks, the world fell away. Through days and hours of bedside watch, the doctors and nurses cared for Mom—and also tended to Dad, me, my brother, sister, and several of Mom's grandchildren.
The medical staff included attending and consulting doctors and specialists, nurses, nurses' aides, physical therapists, a palliative physician, hospice team, social workers, and hospital chaplains. Every single caregiver came by daily and hourly on rounds or responded directly to our summons. They gave us their full attention, professionalism, empathy, unfailing courtesy, and compassion. They guided Mom and us on this journey, professing that their work was a privilege.
Coming out of this tunnel, I have been jarred by the cacophony of our world and the ugliness of our political discourse. But witnessing and experiencing Mom's mortal passage made clear a life lesson.
Looking back, I am wholly grateful to the hospital staff for their skill and kindness. All these strangers modeled how each of us would hope to be treated, how we should want to treat others. In one of life's most difficult transitions, they prioritized dignity, recognition, and love.
As I held Mom's hand, I thought about how short life is—even 97 years is only a "brief candle," as Shakespeare reminded us. It was no stretch to realize that our job as human beings is simple: to love and care for one another and the world. Simple, but not simplistic.
Caring for each other provides a rubric for policy and legislation. As you consider public policy, ask first if a political proposal reflects love and care for individuals or the environment. I'm not talking about how to best serve corporate interests, because corporations are not individuals: Industry's concern is profit, not people. You're in denial if you think otherwise.
The care Mom received manifested the hospital's values: It was gold standard. Having recently visited with homeless individuals in San Luis Obispo, I know that this level of medical care is absolutely not available to all.
I am confused as to why we wouldn't make it a priority to ensure that fellow citizens as well as loved ones have access to gold standard medicine. Certainly no discrimination was given to Mom, despite the fact that she was 97 and some would argue that resources might be better spent on younger patients. The hospital staff provided around-the-clock support and love without distinction or prejudice. That's caring.
On the other hand, the Trump administration has done everything it can to gut the Affordable Care Act, most recently refusing to defend key provisions in court, such as protections for those with pre-existing conditions. Wait! Is being 97 a pre-existing protection?
Let's apply the rubric to other issues.
What about separating families and young children who are fleeing violence in their native countries? Putting kids in detention centers or foster care? Research on children and their developing brains confirms that this type of toxic stress and separation anxiety can have a lifelong deleterious effect on mental health, and, by extension, the community or society in which that individual lives.
In no way does policy that intentionally takes children from their mothers and families meet the test of taking care of one another. It's obscene.
Fair housing? This administration proposes an $8.8 billion cut to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development budget in fiscal year 2019, initiating the most radical attack on federal housing aid since the U.S. Housing Act became law in 1937. Does evicting millions of low-income families sound like caring for others?
Supporting infant health around the world? In an action to protect the $70 billion infant formula industry (i.e. corporate interests), the U.S. delegation to the World Health Assembly recently used strong-arm tactics to oppose a resolution to encourage breastfeeding. Decades of research, meanwhile, shows that mother's milk is healthiest for children. Hmmm. Does this action reflect care for children, especially in vulnerable developing countries?
How about caring for safety and the environment? In April, Trump announced just one out of hundreds of actions that prioritizes business interests and rolls back environmental and safety protections. He signed an executive orderthat ended regulations designed to prevent disastrous offshore oil spills like the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, which killed 11 workers and discharged 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over 87 days. Cleanup efforts cost $62 billion.
Over and over on an almost daily basis, we have the opportunity to judge our own actions and those of our elected representatives at the local, state, and federal level using a standard of inquiry: Do these actions make the world better or worse? Do they reflect love and care, or do they prioritize the agendas of special interests?
Life's candle burns quickly. Embrace each other every day. Give of ourselves in love and caring. Δ
Amy Hewes is actively involved in grassroots political action. Send comments through the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.