Friday, January 21, 2011

Thinking About the Hard Stuff

They're Your Parents, Too! How Siblings Can Survive Their Parents' Aging Without Driving Each Other Crazy, by Francine Russo (Bantam Books, 2010).


I first read about this book on the blog, greenchilesandroses, in a post called How to Deal When Parents Aren't Immortal. Charlotte, the blog's author, is a retired social worker who writes with great empathy about people. Even though we've never met, I feel as though I know her, and I didn't want to let her down by not reading this book, especially as she recommended it so highly.

It was hard for me to read, I have to admit. Oh, the book was fascinating and told the stories of people--real people--who were struggling with issues of aging parents, and that part was easy enough. For me, though, there were a couple of reasons why I found the book so difficult.

The first was point of view. Talk about feeling a part of the so-called "sandwich generation," and worrying about both aging parents and ourselves as parents to grown children! I had to read over many paragraphs more than once--the first time from the point of view of having elderly parents, and the second time from the point of view of being an older parent.

The second difficulty I had in reading the book was due to the subject matter of planning itself, because it is something I haven't really completely dealt with for my life. My own mother was a wonderful example of careful and thoughtful end-of-life planning--there was a living trust, and all aspects of health and finances had been taken care of; her wishes and plans were very clear. When she died it was, of course, a difficult time emotionally, but we "kids" didn't have to deal with any of the practical issues, so things went as smoothly as possible under the circumstances.

Me? Not so much. Beez and I do have wills, and have kept them updated through the years, but every time the doctor asks if I have made out a living will, also known as an "advance directive," or an "advanced health care directive," I mumble that I haven't, and look at the floor, the wall, anywhere but in his kindly face. I just haven't been able to summon the courage to examine what I want done medically if I find myself helpless and at the end of life.

Here's one reason. A few weeks ago, I read on another blog about an elderly lady in the emergency room of the hospital. Her son asked that no heroic measures be taken to prolong her life, as that was her wish. Perhaps lacking any signed paperwork on file, the hospital staff went ahead and revived her. That evening she was well enough to sit up and phone friends for a chat. Oops.

So, yes, I know there are some hard decisions to make and papers to fill out. This book makes it clear how necessary those decisions are, because I know that Beez and I don't want to leave a mess for our kids to clean up when we are no longer able to make our needs known. In this new world of families separated by hundreds or thousands of miles, of parents living longer than any previous generation, and of the loss of the extended family of several generations living under one roof and caring for each other, the last thing we want to do is to leave trouble and worry behind.

I will have a bit more to say on this subject in the next post. In the meantime, I am wondering how you have dealt with these issues. Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments. We're all in this together, you know.


JC said...

Very interesting read for a Friday morning. You made me think with my coffee.

Both of my parents have been gone for a long time. My Dad for 20 years and my Mom for ten. Not much to do with them except get the house cleaned up and sold.

Me, I have never done a will or anything. While in hospitals, I sign that form saying what to do.

I've told my h that if I get sick .. again .. to let me go but I don't have anything in writing.

I am in the process of cleaning up this old house. Lived here 15 years and I'm going through everything ... throwing out and boxing up.

Hopefully there won't be a mess to clean up after I'm gone. I really do not want to bother my kids with my mess.

My inlaws just moved and they had 50 years of mess. They had others clean it up for them. It made me mad. I didn't help them with it .. I let my H and his siblings do that.

Next ...

Sandy ~~~ said... hit the nail on the head. And I, like you, probably haven't done half of what I think I should. So I will be ordering this book and reading it. When we move to Corona, NM this year, to retire, we will be far from the kids in Pasadena, CA and Buckley, WA and the last thing I would want to be is a "burden". I think planning is one of the most giving gifts a parent could give. Thanks for your post!

Mary Hulser said...

This was an interesting post, Clair. I was glad to read that you don't have much planned before the big exit. This will leave plenty of time for us to hang out! When Pat and I talk about these things, especially the possibility of dementia, he always says, "Just shoot me."

becky said...

I think having an advanced directive is a very good idea. You can define what your own "heroic measures" are in the paperwork. For example, you could have yes on the CPR, but perhaps no on the prolonged life support if there is no hope of survival. It does get tricky, though. I've always thought, no, I don't want prolonged life support, as I have seen people living on respirators for years with such a poor quality of life- no brain activity or communication... trapped in a lifeless body. But I have also worked with a man who survived being in a coma for a month, who got up & walked shortly after. Working in healthcare, of course I know I should have one... but Yikes! I don't. I have expressed my wishes to my mom, but it's not in writing. And that places a lot of responsibility on a family member if the circumstances were dire (God Forbid!) Not fun to think about. I think about someone going through my stuff. What a pain that would be.

southernlady64 said...

It is amazing to me that I came over here tonight and saw this post. My son lost his father this morning to cancer. His father and I have been divorced for many years but always remained friends. He was a good man and a good father and left a wonderful wife behind. He had everything taken care of because he has been dealing with cancer for a long time. My girls lost their father 11 years ago. That leaves me as the only parent to all three of them alive. I have done nothing! I really do need to attend to this and quit putting things off. Thank you for this post and for opening my eyes.

matron said...

Clair,thank you for this post,it is a timely reminder for me to do something I keep meaning to do but never get round to.!!
Both my parents had pre paid for their funerals and their wishes were documented in a living will
My father died 3yrs ago,everything was taken care of by the funeral directors.My mother is still alive and is in her late 80s,she is not easy to care for as she has dementia,but that is another story.
I agree that we should have our wishes about our health/care etc and funerals documented,so that our children know what to do without feeling guilty.
Thanks for raising a difficult subject.

Deb said...

Strange how I continued to read this when I realized the subject. Tonight though, I kept reading. I am convinced planning and putting your wishes in writing is they way to go...just haven't been able to get it together enough to do it. You may have given me the push I need. I think.

Linda said...

I don't think living wills are quite so common the UK. My mum died so quickly (from cancer diagnosis to death - 1 month) that there wasn't time for anything. My dad has made his wishes clear about funeral service, but in terms of care it's not something we've discussed. I know he doesn't want to linger. But I'm an only child, so all the legal stuff is simple.
However, I can see complications for us with our two children. Who do we leave the family home to up in the north? Do they both get it as a holiday home to share, because they don't intend to settle in such a remote area. What happens thereafter when it comes to leaving it to their children? Should we just stipulate that it should be sold and the money divided equally between them?

Kate said...

We have both of the legal work and documents completed but our own kids don't seem to want to deal with any of the other details: ascribing possessions, for example. I keep telling myself that I'll write an "ethical will" for them and design my memorial service as well as write my obituary, but I cannot seem to get around to that. Downsizing the house will be a real horror. Guess I need to make some realistic goals.

Jean (aka Auntie Bucksnort) said...

I have a scribbled scrawled little "will" in a pocket notebook buried somewhere in a pile of papers. Far from official.

I suppose it would be different if I were wealthy and had lots of property etc to bequeath. As it is, I've got my organs, a violin, a car and a bunch of junk I fondly refer to as my "collectables". My lucky daughter... such "riches" to be had.

p.s. Of course I assume you'll take my dogs and cats and add them to your herd, dear sister, should I cast off this mortal coil before you do.

p.p.s. Mary, I'm with Pat - just shoot me.

Delia said...

You know I am getting practice with Nana and I will always be there to take care of you and Dad!