My siblings and I helped care for my dad his last couple of years – the goal was to try to keep him and mom together and in their home. My roles included paying bills and my dad’s personal hygiene. He didn’t really enjoy handing over either one but knew he needed help.
Meet my mom and dad, Lorna and Don Van Wagoner. Married for 61years, they have four children and lived together in the same house until Dad passed away at 3:50am – March 22, 2018.
Our family rallied over those last 18 months of dad’s life. I have no regrets about how we handled it. We agreed that I would have Durable Power of Attorney for both finances and healthcare. My wife Wendy and I documented both my parent’s wishes in regards to death. We used documents we found online and had the neighbors act as witnesses. Wendy, my siblings and I would meet to talk about situations that could occur and would need me to have the final say whether to continue life-saving measures or not.
Several months later mom suffered two mild heart attacks that changed everything. She slowed considerably and doctors told her not to drive. She insisted that sooner or later she was going to drive herself to get her hair done. I disabled the car and eventually sold it. It was a difficult transition for her. In case you’re wondering, my dad, stopped driving a few years earlier on his own.
As the home care now needed more consistency, my sister, Linda was now the expert at filling the pill organizers and getting mom to her blood lab appointments. My brothers Bill and Dan helped with laundry, running errands, and sundry tasks. It’s hard work and a lot of travel. But we did our best to communicate and work together. Now, with dad passing, we continue the work to keep mom at home. It’s her wish. It was part of one of our talks.
Yep, no regrets. Well, okay, there is one: What would life had been like this past couple of years had we all discussed growing old and dying? I often think about how much better the situation would have been had we planned for it. I wish someone back then would have advised us to have “the talk.”
If your parents are in their 50’s, 60’s or 70’s or at least young enough to make some plans for their last years, you should have “the talk.” I encourage you to get it done as soon as possible. Let me help prepare you.
It will likely not be enjoyable. But you’ll be so very glad you did it.
- Have “the talk.” Do it now. Don’t wait until poor health sets in on them (like I did). Do it when you’re sitting at the kitchen table or at the picnic table with iced tea. Do it after you’ve thought about the different reactions they may have. Do it when you are feeling good and can think clearly. “The talk” is just that…talk. No decisions being made. No notes being taken. Just talk. Depending on your age, the age of your parents and your relationship, this talk could go in a lot of directions.
- Back then…Here is how I would have approached my mom and dad 10 or 20 years ago “I’ve been thinking about growing older. Will I try to stay in my house? When will I stop driving and who might help out. Do you have a plan for that kind of stuff? Are you going to try to stay in the house as long as you can or are you gonna sell the place?
- More Questions: “What will be your cue to stop driving because I’m thinking I’ll have my kids give me occasional road tests if I make it to 75?” How about this one, “someday you’re not going to be able to reach your feet. Do you expect me to trim your toenails? How will you take a shower? When grandpa P.W. got to be 90, who took care of him?”
- Plan the next step: “Is it okay if I do some research and we all start documenting our wishes?” Free documents online will help lead later conversations. The idea is to share thoughts and document decisions over time. You are creating a living document. It can be changed over the years as you or your parents change your minds. Here is a link to a documentation that was helpful for us. http://www.legislature.mi.gov/publications/peaceofmind.pdf
- “The Talk” goes on: These talks should never end. Things will change. It’s okay. When you see changes in health, wealth, attitude or it’s just been a long time then it’s time to talk. Your documentation can change too. It’s gonna be okay.
Yeah…I regret not having that conversation back then. I sometimes felt angry or frustrated when I felt I had to debate with dad to get him in the shower, trim his toenails and take over his finances. I’d feel even worse because I had those feelings (heavy sigh). I realized they needed me. They need us. Advocates. Imagine if they were on their own. I know I was blessed to have him for all those years.
My ultimate goal? Get you to not only have “the talk” with your parents but with your grown children too. I’ve been having these discussions with my grown children. Wendy and I have a Will. Now it’s your turn. Go have a talk. You’ll be so very glad you did.