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.