death of a parent

Deathbed promises and how to fulfill them

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Painting by artist, Mary Riesche
Painting by artist, Mary Riesche

Here’s another article from the past that draws lots of attention. Bringing it into the present today.

First of all – take a deep breath and shed the mantle of guilt you’re wearing.  Now let’s address your dilemma.

When your father was on his deathbed you made a promise to take care of your mother in her old age.  Now she is at the point of not being able to care for herself and you realize that you’re absolutely not cut out for – nor are you capable of – taking her under your roof to provide the care that she needs.  What’s a dutiful son or daughter to do?

I’m not advocating that you break your promise to your father but I am suggesting that you consider redefining what that promise looks like.  You promised your father that you would take care of your mother and that’s exactly what you’re going to do.  Taking care of your mother is not solely defined as moving her into your home and taking care of all her basic needs until she dies.  Very few people have the ability or the means to provide 24-hour care in their home.  You made that promise with the best intentions and you can still honor your promise without dishonoring your father.  Keep in mind that loving your mother doesn’t guarantee your success as her caregiver.  Even adult children with a fabulous relationship with their parent struggle greatly in their efforts.  And if your relationship with your mother is tenuous at best, try picturing the scenario of you as caregiver and her as recipient of that care.  What effect will that have on her, you, and the remainder of your household?

Let’s clarify how best to care for your mother.

Why can’t caring for your mother mean that you’re honest enough to admit that you’re not the best caregiving option?  Do your best to find the care alternative that will provide her an optimal quality of life, e.g. adult daycare, errand and housekeeping services, assisted living.  Do the research and consult the experts to confidently fulfill your promise to your father by securing the best care solution for your mother.  If that solution involves selecting an assisted living facility, there are many resources available to you that can make this move a successful one for everyone involved.  As her son or daughter you will be able to lovingly help her transition into a residential location with like-minded older adults where she can receive the care that will fulfill the promise you made to your father.

Now imagine the NEW normal that your mother and your family can experience.

Your mother lives nearby in an assisted living residence.  She has companions with whom she enjoys spending time.  She receives three wholesome meals a day and when she, or you, feel like seeing each other, you’re just a short drive away!  The time she spends at your house will be as a pampered visitor – not an inpatient (or impatient) relative.  It’s probably difficult right now for you to see this as a viable option, but I think in time, you’ll find that everyone, including your father, will be pleased with the outcome.

Here are some links to get you started on your quest: www.alz.org; www.caregiver.com; www.ltcombudsman.org

I covet your input.  What success, or challenges in achieving success, can you share with us?  I look forward to hearing from you.

A difficult but necessary conversation

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‘The Other Talk’ Helps You Discuss Tough Decisions With Adult Children – AARP.

When your children attained the age wherein having “The Talk” about sex and other scary things became unavoidable, you simply jumped in and  winged it – wanting to explain as much to your kids as they needed to know but trying not to lend any encouragement towards participation in said scary things.  Didn’t you feel better once you checked that “To Do” item off your child-rearing list?  I know I did.

My father in mid-stage Alzheimer's.
My father in mid-stage Alzheimer’s.

“The Other Talk” is that which you need to have with your adult-sized children, regardless of how uncomfortable you – or your children – are about topics such as: illness, death, and finances. Acccckkkkk!

My mother and my daughter, circa 1977.
My mother and my daughter, circa 1977.

Or perhaps it’s the other way around.  The adult children are broaching these difficult topics with their parents in the hopes that said parents will do something about these unavoidable issues.  Regardless of who is on the receiving end of these discussions, they should be considered mandatory in every family.

Consider this scenario: Dad is dying of cancer and in a coma.  Your mother has already passed on, and you have no idea what your dad wants.  His cancer is inoperable and he’s having more and more difficulty breathing and he hasn’t had any nourishment by mouth since he went into a coma.  Does he want breathing assistance?  Does he want intravenous liquids and nourishment?  Does he want pain medication to help him through the extreme pain that cancer causes, even if the medication hastens his death?

What’s a son or daughter to do?  Wing it?

Let’s look at another scenario: Mom is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and is unconscious more than she is conscious.  There is no reversal possible of the debilitating effect this disease has had on her body: her doctor tells the family that their mother’s ability to swallow is greatly compromised, her breathing is becoming more and more labored, and she has shown no interest whatsoever in food or liquids.  Her body is in the active stages of dying.

In this scenario, dad is still living and cognitively competent and he has told the family and your mother’s doctor that he wants every single measure possible to be employed to keep his bride of sixty-five years alive.  You, however, have a copy of your mother’s living will/advanced health care directive – as does your father – which contains conflicting wishes to those of your father.  Your mother wants no extraordinary measures employed – not a respirator, not a gastric feeding tube, no intravenous nourishment, nothing except for medication that will make her as comfortable as possible as she leaves this world.  When your mother was fully aware and cognitively healthy, she had her wishes incorporated into a legal document, determined to take the responsibility of making such decisions out of her loved ones’ hands.

What’s a son or daughter to do?  Follow mom’s wishes.

What a gift that is – carrying out your loved one’s wishes when she is no longer able to verbalize them.  It would still be a gift if mom’s wishes were clearly spelled out that she wanted everything done to keep her alive as long as possible.  The point is not what was decided that is important – it’s that the decision had already been made – a decision that remained in the hands of the patient/family member.

Both of my parents gifted me and my two siblings with documented specific wishes for their life and death.  My mother unexpectedly died in her sleep on September 24th, 1994 at the age of 77 – something she had wished and hoped for her entire life – who doesn’t?  My father died on October 13th, 2007 at the age of 89 from complications of Alzheimer’s and cancer.  There was no guessing when it came to the time when us three adult kids rushed to his bedside.  He was comfortable in his death, and we honored him by following his wishes for no intervention.  Did I want my dad to die?  God no.  I wanted him to live forever; but none of us gets to do that, so I’m glad that my father was allowed to take his last breath and leave this world his way.

Where do you find peace?

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Do you find peace within the circle of your family; or does meditation or prayer, an inspirational book, or music fill your soul?  Wherever the source – how do you keep that peace from slipping away?

On the Threshold of Eternity
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Certainly when we’re exposed to sorrowful or earth-shattering news, any semblance of peace and calm seem to disappear, such as: acts of terrorism – both domestic and abroad; heartless school shootings; bigotry and hatred; and even devastating illness.  How many times has your armor been pierced by such circumstances?

Too many to count. So how do we find peace amongst the chaos?

We can find peace in many small ways – probably the easiest way to do so is to acknowledge the beauty that surrounds us.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re a creationist or an evolutionist, the beauty you see is the same.  It’s always refreshing when I walk through my local plant nursery, Molbaks, to see the intricacies of flowers and their natural, yet seemingly unrealistic, colors.  How did that happen?  How can so much detail just happen and we had nothing to do with it?  I relish the peace I feel when roaming the rows and rows of flowers and I capture that moment and take it home with me.

Português: Céu rosa com nuvens um pouco antes ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And the colors of sunrises and sunsets – what a joy to behold!  Even though my house is located in such a way as to not be able to directly see the sun’s rising and setting, I still have the privilege of seeing its aftereffects in the pink and ruby colors of the sky.  My mother’s favorite color was pink, so when the sky is beautifully colored in that tint, I credit my mother for this natural artwork, somehow executed from her heavenly resting place.

Celebrating even the smallest of victories in one’s life.  Time and again I remind myself to acknowledge the small goodnesses and victories in my life.  I learned this practice shortly after having a fairly major orthopedic surgery several years ago.  The recovery and rehabilitation were lengthy so I had to take comfort in even the smallest signs of improvement so that discouragement didn’t creep in to rob me of the positive steps I had made towards recovery.

So too is it important to pay attention to all the emotional windfalls that come our way.  A huge lottery windfall – such as recently happened (December 2013) in California and Georgia – isn’t the type of emotional windfall I’m talking about.  We can experience far more authentic emotions that are not tied to money or things.  Someone greets me with a smile or has a word of encouragement that I absolutely needed at that moment?  That feeds my soul.  I greet someone else with a smile and a hug?  Even better – now I’m paying it forward!  It’s been said many times before that the richest and longest lasting gifts are those that don’t cost a cent.  As trite as it may sound, it’s still absolutely true.

Where or how does one find peace when hit with a wall of hurt – whatever that hurt may look like?  In my experience, I have to force myself to look away from the hurt/pain/stress/negativity in order to clearly see some peaceful element, regardless of how small, that will convince me that all is not lost, because I still have this, whatever “this” may be.  When we consciously turn away from the wall of hurt, we then have the ability to find some element of peace, somewhere, in our purview.  That doesn’t mean that we ignore what is required to resolve the hurt that came our way, but we make a conscious decision to redirect our focus elsewhere so that all the focus isn’t on the hurtful things that have come our way.

Dona Nobis Pacem.  I really like this blog entry entitled, Dona Nobis Pacem, from a blog written by Kathy that focuses on her quest to find peace after the death of her mom to pancreatic cancer.  To be sure – finding peace is a journey, it’s not just a decision one makes – and Kathy’s article addresses the work required to attain peace.  But initially she had to make a decision to simply start on that peace-finding journey, and doing so, she’s nearing her quest.  I hope you will visit Kathy’s site and take the time to also watch the video she attached that highlights the song Dona Nobis Pacem – Give Us Peace.