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Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate, and Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, led the criticism in the summer of 2009. Ms. Palin said “Obama’s death panel” would decide who was worthy of health care. Mr. Boehner, who is in line to become speaker, said, “This provision may start us down a treacherous path toward government-encouraged euthanasia.” Forced onto the defensive, Mr. Obama said that nothing in the bill would “pull the plug on grandma.”

A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation suggests that the idea of death panels persists. In the September poll, 30 percent of Americans 65 and older said the new health care law allowed a government panel to make decisions about end-of-life care for people on Medicare. The law has no such provision.— “Obama Returns to End-of-Life Plan That Caused Stir”, New York Times, December 25, 2010

In October, I got a call from my mom. She told me that my grandmother was dying. By the time Ted, Frances and I arrived in Ohio, my grandma had already been moved from the hospital to my aunt’s house. She had stopped taking the various life-extending medications that most 89-year-olds take, and her caretakers—her children, their spouses, her grandchildren, and a hospice nurse who visited the house—had shifted to palliative therapy, mostly painkillers and some anti-anxiety drugs. She was allowed to eat whatever she wanted; nobody was concerned about her cholesterol levels anymore. Nobody gave her a hard time for smoking—in fact, people who had been trying to get her to quit for forty years were buying her cartons of Pall Malls. Relatives from all around the country came to see her.

My grandmother bloomed under this regimen. She gained weight. She was lucid most of the time. She  came to my fortieth birthday party and had a glass of wine—made acceptable to her palate with the addition of a tablespoon of sugar.  She had the chance to hold a brand-new great-grandbaby. And, on December 20, she died at home, with four of her seven living children at her side.

The doctors my grandma saw in October made it clear that she was dying. They did not send her home; she chose to go home, and her family chose to care for her. We had the chance to celebrate with her, and hospice care made it possible for her death to be of a piece with her life. I think I can speak for my whole family when I say that we were blessed to have those last months with her—and “blessed” isn’t a word I use very often.


There is no “death panel” in this story. Nobody “pulled the plug on grandma”. The debate about healthcare reform had reached the peak of lunacy when my grandfather was dying in hospice care last year, and my anger was intense and personal (You can read about that experience here). It was just so upsetting to hear people equating informed, compassionate end-of-life planning with “death panels”. I understand the political utility of fear, and I understand being afraid to die. But talking about death isn’t courting death. Death doesn’t need an invitation. In fact, communicating with loved ones and preparing for the end actually gives us a small measure of agency when we confront the inevitable—agency we lose if we wait until we are too incapacitated to understand our options or make our wishes known.

Six days after losing my grandma, I was heartened to see that the Obama administration has managed to resurrect the kind of end-of-life planning that was shouted down last year. But I’m also bracing for the return of misinformation and fear-mongering. So, if I can ask you a favor, it’s this: Do what you can to keep the inevitable debate reality-based and compassionate.

December 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Beauty Review: Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Pur in 1 Le Rouge

Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Pur in 1 Le Rouge In the photo, her grandmother was wearing a New Look dress and laughing. As far as she could remember, she had never seen her grandmother wearing anything other than polyester slacks and permanent-press shirts. It was hard to imagine her in Dior—and it was definitely Dior. She must have gotten it during the brief period she worked at the department store downtown, right before she got married and had her first baby.

The photo was black-and-white, of course, but she could tell that her grandmother was wearing red lipstick. The dress was long gone, and she knew that she, herself, would never own anything like it. She thought that she might be able to capture a little of her grandmother’s glamour with the right lipstick, but the right lipstick was devilishly hard to find. Every shade she tried was too pink, too orange, too brown, too… something.

Then she found Yves Saint Laurent Rouge Pur in 1 Le Rouge. This was it. This was the perfect red. She put it on, looked at herself in the mirror, and—for just a second—she saw her grandmother smiling back at her.

December 14, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fashion Review: Empire Line Tunic from Boden

Empire Line Tunic from Boden
Her usual look—low-slung jeans and clever T-shirts—wasn’t working anymore. It wasn’t just that her midsection was expanding at an astonishing rate, obliterating her waist. It was also that, approaching forty, she was occasionally seared by the white-hot suspicion that she was no longer dressing her age. She imagined a future of kaftans. She considered vests, and she shuddered. Then she saw the Empire Line Tunic, and she thought, “Maybe”.

When her Boden order arrived in the mail, she rushed upstairs to her room before she opened it. The fabric felt like cool water as she tried on the tunic, and she was pleased to see that it draped nicely without being heavy. The empire bodice was generously cut —it accommodated breasts that had nursed a child—while the skirted graced her curves without being clingy.

She felt good about the way she looked, for the first time in awhile.

December 10, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Beauty Review: Deborah Lippmann Nail Color in Boom Boom Pow

Deborah Lippmann Nail Color in Boom Boom Pow
She had been trying, her entire adult life, to cultivate a taste for classic beauty. She had learned to appreciate craftsmanship, the almost imperceptible details that make an object—a vase, a dress, a handbag—exquisite. She had tried to develop an aesthetic that matched her advanced degrees, not the circumstances of her birth. But still... Still her eye was drawn by anything that sparkled or flashed, and that bottle of swirling gold was more than she could resist. She bought it, of course. It was more subtle than she expected. There were great bits of glitter like doubloons, yes, but they were adrift in a sea of delicate shimmer. She waved her hand in the air, and thought of Danaë, ravaged by a shower of gold.


December 8, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)