Tag Archives: Death

It’s time to have The Conversation with Mom and Dad

It was probably one of the most important and treasured conversations I’ve had with my in-laws. Granted, my husband’s parents are pretty special people. They read three newspapers a day, several books each month and discuss world events. They tackle health issues head on and look for solutions and support, rather than dwell on any setbacks.

On our last visit, they sat down with my husband, John, and me, and read aloud each of the points in their Advanced Healthcare Directive. Both John and I have worked in senior housing and have professional experience helping families come to grips with end of life care. I’ve filled out my own health care directive, talked about end of life on my radio show and during presentations, and have been a part of my own dad’s planning process. But we’re older now and our parents are older. It is highly likely that any of our four parents will eventually utilize a health care directive.

two people talkingI can’t lie: It’s not necessarily an easy process, but it is profoundly rewarding. If we hadn’t read through my in-laws wishes, we would have missed several crucial details. Among these is that they do not want Hospice to come into their home. They would prefer to move into a Hospice facility. John and I thought for sure they would want to die in their home, but they have their reasons for not wanting this and now their wishes are quite clear. We know very specifically what care they want in the later stages of their lives.

Yes, we’re talking about end of life when filling out an advanced healthcare directive. But we’re also looking at how we want to be cared for while we’re still living. If you haven’t yet broached the topic with your parents, give it a try. Use my example. If they don’t want to discuss end of life issues, let it go, but try again another day. And while you’re waiting, fill out your own directive. You may just gain rich insights into how you really want to live.

I See that you’re suffering; let me provide relief

“When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily. Dementia, as it descends, has a way of revealing the core of the person affected by it. My mother’s core was rotten like the brackish water at the bottom of the weeks-old vase of flowers. She had been beautiful when my father met her and still capable of love when I became their late-in-life child, but by the time she gazed up at me that day, none of this mattered.”

The first paragraph in Alice Sebold’s novel, The Almost Moon, hit me in the gut. A frustrated daughter relieves her mother’s suffering while also setting herself free from the pressures of caring for someone who no longer recognized her as her daughter.

But this is a novel. This is not real life. As soon as I finished the book, I sighed and silently asked the unthinkable, “When will we see a headline about a daughter ‘relieving’ her mother of suffering?”

And then this article appeared. Is that what this is about? When we see a mother-daughter murder-suicide in the news, alarm bells ring. I discussed this with Dak and these are our thoughts in his words:

 

It’s just one case, right? It’s not like this is happening all over the place. This is not an epidemic. It’s just a weird thing is what it is. It’s an isolated incident, that’s all.

And yet, there is a whole lot of mystery to this that opens out into many possible worlds. This story offers very little detail. The authors won’t speculate. This one will.

I can imagine reasons for this happening from many angles.

The mother had a dread disease and no one would listen to her except the daughter who decided to act to alleviate her mother’s pain and then couldn’t live with herself.

The tyrannical mother finally became weak enough for the abused daughter to overpower and kill. Then killed herself.

Sorrow at loss of being useful.
Sorrow for being a burden.
Without hope.
Interior demons hide in the dark and they look like competence to everyone else.
Despair. So many reasons for despair.
Why did she choose a gun?
A belief that there is a better afterlife.
The weight of living is too heavy.
Too much of a burden on the ones you love.
Too much of a burden on the country you love.
Loss of community to death, to convenience, to entertainment and long distance.

What are the solutions here? How do we feel when we read a story like this? I feel my mind reach out to try to comprehend what happened, but why? Do I think I might become a woman whose mother is still alive and have to face this situation myself? No. But I can imagine how it could have felt and I think it would have felt pretty bad. No matter what the story behind the people is, at least one of them was suffering and had no relief in life. We can moralize about her choice, but that doesn’t seem like a solution to me. I feel that it’s wrong to kill, but happy people have no reason to kill. A satisfied society is a safe society.

So these two…hey one of them lived to be 93. That’s some persisting. I don’t think people live to be 93 without figuring a few things out and my feeling is that she had a good way of coping with stress, one that worked. Her daughter made it to 60 and that’s saying a lot as well. (I know we’re not supposed to be impressed with how long we live now compared to the entirety of our previous existence, but I’ve been watching “Cosmos.”)

She was suffering and we were in no position to offer relief. I think the fear is that one day we will be suffering in such a way that we need help for relief and it doesn’t come, or it’s slow to come. What kind of help?

We seem divided from our heritage. We have social media instead of being social, and I think many of us are fooled into thinking that the two are equivalent. There will always be suffering, but what if we were so kind to each other and considered ourselves together as a body rather than individual and separated pieces that we all shared the suffering so it ceased being so awful to any one of us?

I think it’s easy to forget that there are solutions to our problems and they are going to be found whenever two or more of us gather together. Remember who told us to do that? Again here it is easy to get hooked into the story, but the story is alive in us. We are telling the story of ourselves right now. I know I’m not alone in preferring kindness to suffering.

Dak Gustal is a freelance writer and poet living in Randoph, VT. You may contact him at st.augustus@gmail.com

Expressing love for one’s father

My friend Evan’s tribute to his father resonated with how I feel about my dad. Evan tenderly illustrates the importance of recounting a parent’s influence and meaning in one’s life. I share this in hopes that it will inspire you to do the same, if not at least contemplate gifts and lessons you’ve received from your parents.

By Evan Brown

No recipe, but maybe an acknowledgement of the recipe of life.  Sometimes we face moments we know are coming, think we are preparing for and find ourselves so unprepared and wishing for more…more time, more conversations to say all the things we wanted to have the chance to say, more time to just be in the same room enjoying their company.

My father, Lee Brown, passed away, gently in the early morning.  He was 82 and had spent a long time with some serious lung issues.  I will really miss him, for all that he shepherded out of me. Read more »

Is Assisted Living a Dangerous Place to Live?

The PBS Frontline special “Life and Death in Assisted Living” has sparked a great deal of chatter on social media. Assisted living (AL) is not regulated like nursing home care (or SNF-skilled nursing facility), but do we want it to be? Regulations tend to put the kibosh on creative offerings.

One of the initial definitions of assisted living was “living with risk.” When I first worked in the industry, folders replaced charts; aides didn’t wear uniforms; and med carts never entered the dining room. Buildings were designed to look like country mansions with grand staircases (that residents were discouraged from using).

Assisted living in 1996 was designed to provide some assistance in a home-like setting. As people have aged in place, AL has become a less-regulated version of a nursing home. While the industry markets these communities as homes, they refer to them as facilities. Who wants to live in a facility?

As for staff being overworked, underpaid, and under-trained, I agree. Years ago my partner and I started our company Age In Motion, Inc. We designed programs to address the issue of assisted living staff that was (still is) underpaid, undervalued, and under-trained. We created a staff training that not only motivated the staff and reminded them of their importance, but also taught them about normal aging, diseases that cause dementia, family dynamics, and activities that engage individuals and groups.

I thought we’d be in demand … that everyone, especially senior housing, would want this training. Sadly, most choose to ignore aging until it happens to someone they love, then the cramming begins. But where do you get the information?

This is why I do what I do and have done what I’ve done. Let’s talk about this thing called aging, engage in understanding what happens to us as we grow older — the ups, the downs, the good, the bad. This is the package. This is why I started The Unexpected Caregiver radio show four years ago and have a mission to syndicate it throughout the US and world.

The conversation is long overdue, but it is not distasteful to have. Aging and taking care of each other is not distasteful. And if we learn about aging, plan for our aging years, research our options, we will have a better understanding of what is to come.

No, assisted living is not dangerous. It is as misunderstood as the journey of aging.

“I See Dead People”

It’s totally normal for someone who is dying to see “others” (many times relatives). They may even talk to them. You may think they’re going crazy, but it’s very common. Sometimes a dying person will say something such as, “Aunt Mildred was here and asked me to go with her….” These experiences happen, as Christine Cowgill told family caregivers on The Unexpected Caregiver Radio Show.

I realize that you may not want to discuss death, but when a loved one is dying, it can be the central theme of one’s days. Read more »

Thank You, My Not Always Perfect Mom

KG & DianneMy mom died January of 2002. Even though I was a choir director at the time and living in Denver, CO, I got the gut call to fly home for Christmas. I felt an intuition that I should sing The Birthday of a King for my mom, a song that, over the years, she had often requested and that last year I honored. We had tickets to return to Denver on December 26th, but learned—at the airport—our flight had been permanently cancelled. Eric flew out the next day, but I remained because Mom had just been admitted to the hospital and Dad wanted me to stay. I stayed that time and one other, when we received the doctor’s diagnosis of liver cancer. That third time I tried to return to Colorado, Mom died. Read more »

Your Legacy May Live on in Cyber Space!

The PBS News Hour covered a story on our digital real estate. Do you know how many people die every day in the Facebook world? According to the News Hour story, three. That’s a lot of ghosts haunting the social media world of Facebook.

Planning for a death is not a popular event, but it is a rare and precious gift to your survivors. Read more »