This Is Us

My Mother Wants a Pill

Extreme longevity is a mixed blessing — at best

Aimee Liu
Human Parts
Published in
9 min readJan 6, 2022

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Photo by author

“Why can’t I just take a pill?” my mother has pleaded over and over since she turned 100. “I don’t want to be here anymore.”

It’s a perfectly reasonable question, with no good answer. And that’s just not fair. Not to our family, nor to anyone who’s simply had enough of the irreversible losses that come with extreme longevity.

My mother’s problem is that there’s nothing else really “wrong” with her. She was recently diagnosed with emphysema and heart murmurs, but minimal medication keeps them under control. As her doctors never tire of telling us, she’s remarkably healthy “for someone her age.”

But her age is now 101, and the perfectly natural changes that come with such a long life make her feel anything but normal, much less good.

Unfortunately, my mother is not quite what gerontologists would call a “super-ager” — someone with the physical and cognitive health of a person 30 years younger. She’s in much better shape than most her age, but she’s been noticeably winding down for several years. And now that she feels her actual years, she hates still being “here.”

Denial is not a defense

All her long life, my mother has been a ferocious, stubborn, opinionated exemplar of style and determination. With a background in fashion and design, she cast a critical eye over every figure, color, composition, and outfit within view — and loudly proclaimed her judgments. She prided herself on the house she built with my father in the 1950s and the decor she’s assembled there over the many decades since. As independent as she was obstinate, she reveled in occupying this Connecticut property alone after Dad’s death in 2007. It didn’t bother her that I lived in California or my brother half an hour away. She prized her privacy and loved her space. She intended to die in the back bedroom, gazing out into the woods, just as Dad had at age 95.

The flaw in Mom’s plan was her own ageism. She hated being around “old people,” viewing their disabilities as some combination of shameful and offensive. She held friends in contempt for moving into assisted living communities in their 80s. She needed…

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Aimee Liu
Human Parts

Author, Asian-American novels (Glorious Boy), nonfiction on eating disorders (Gaining), writing, wellness. Published @Hachette. MFA & more@ aimeeliu.net