Monday Morning Greetings 2020 #50 – Dying in America

December 14th, 2020

Dying in America[1]


For the past week, I have been staying at my mother’s house. She will be 100 years of age next June, bless her soul. My younger and older brother responsibly manage her affairs, but besides a full-time helper, she lives without any family. Prior to the pandemic they could at least visit regularly.


I won’t bore you with the details, but getting old and dying is no fun, especially in America where independence is valued to such a degree that everyone wants their own place, even after visibly getting older. Unfortunately, the result is that when one eventually becomes debilitated, they hardly ever age or die with family and are mostly shuffled off to a nursing home. What could be a worse fate than dying without the care of loved ones, which now seems the norm or culture in most of the first world?


I think the root of this tragedy is a misunderstanding of freedom. Freedom is great when it allows you to worship the God of your choice and freely voice your opinions. When freedom, however, is defined simply as freedom to, which tends to overvalue abject independence, then an equally important freedom is excluded, the freedom from, in this case from loneliness, when the support one requires to be secure and emotionally fulfilled is insufficient. In my opinion, this situation is a direct result of the unhinged freedom to culture that minimizes the value of duty, sacrifice, and ultimately the extended family. Thinking about this gave me a remembrance that I think highlights this loss of tradition and culture.


I was walking down the main road in Govardhan with a friend when I noticed a stately old building. The sign carved in stone on the edifice in bold letters announcing “ANATHALAYA” caught my attention. I asked my friend what it meant. It was an orphanage. I was then immediately able to recognize how the meaning of the word was derived from its components, which were common Sanskrit words — a (not)—nātha (to control or rule) — ālaya (dwelling). I was struck by the cultural implications of the meaning, “a dwelling for those who have no ruler.”


In a traditional culture, the concept of no one to rule one describes a tragic situation, for the concept of authority or rule mostly means shelter and consequent guidance, and to lack that is indeed unfortunate. In the post­modern world, the term no ruler or controller, however, would never be the choice of words to describe something negative, because becoming free from rule or authority is actually valued. Today’s children therefore usually don’t remain with their parents, and most parents today prefer to stay in their own house even when getting older. By the time the need for serious care arises, there are usually not even enough family members in one house capable or willing to take on such responsibility.


Anyway, I am here with my mother trying to help. I am arranging to get her hearing aid fixed. Somehow her helper didn’t realize it was not working, which made it practically impossible for the family to talk with her on the tablet they purchased. I am trying to do my part. Aging and dying without spiritual realization is difficult enough, but dying in America is especially tragic.



[1] America can refer to anyplace in North or South America. Here I am using it to refer to the United States.

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