It is Tuesday night around 8:30pm when my cell phone rings. My mother’s picture flashes on the screen and I’m suddenly hit with a twinge of anxiety…”Hello?” “Hi, its mom just wanted to talk to you one last time before tomorrow. Remember that I love you and those kids, so give them all a hug and kiss for me. Also, my Will and Power of Attorney along with all my life insurance information is in my filing cabinet, top drawer, second folder. In the third folder behind that, you will find the deed to the house, information on all the bills and taxes, as well as my funeral information and my last wishes.” I could feel the lump in my throat painfully growing as she talked, and suddenly I was overcome with emotion…a tear slowly streamed down my face. Out of fear that I would end up sobbing like a baby, I took a few seconds to compose myself before I responded. “Hello, are you there?” “Yes, I’m still here mom…thank you for organizing that for us. What time are you scheduled to be there in the morning?” I responded. “I have to be there by 5am”. “Okay mom, I’ll be thinking of you. Remember that I love you, and I’ll be up to see you tomorrow afternoon. I’m certain you’re going to do great! I can’t wait until you’re all better …we’ll be out walking the malls again in no time!!!” I said trying to sound really positive…trying to make is sound like I was okay.
My mother was headed to the hospital the next day for double knee replacement surgery. I had prepared myself for this moment since she was originally diagnosed with arthritic knees two years earlier. It was clear to all of us, as she slowly lost her mobility, that surgery was inevitable. Even so, this process has been very difficult not just for me, but for my other siblings. Watching our mother’s knees slowly deteriorate, and watching her slowly shuffle along, the pain of each step painfully displayed on her face, has brought all of us closer to facing the fact that our mother is not getting any younger. In fact, we are coming to the realization that someday, she will no longer be with us.
Death is a part of life…everyone knows it and for the most part we all learn to accept it. However, when it comes to my parents and facing their mortality, I’m left feeling anxious and overwhelmed. I’m okay with death, I understand it happens. I’m okay with the fact that someday, I too will no longer be here…but my parent’s not being here seems unfathomable! How can life go on without them…I am alive because of them…they have always been here…life without them wouldn’t seem…well…like “life”, could it? My parents were my first constant in this ever-changing world. Schools change, friendships change, interests change, routines change, but our parent’s…they are always the same, they are always there. I have never had to live without either of them, and I’ve never existed without them. No wonder I feel so insecure and on edge every time I glance at them and realize they are getting older. Truth be told, I DON’T want to face a world without my parents.
In the months leading up to my mother’s surgery, she has been extremely open in sharing with all of us her anxiety over making sure all her affairs are in order in the event something were to happen to her. She has spent the past few months organizing her life and making her wishes known. She has been very transparent with all of us with regard to her finances. She’s constantly making sure we know where documents are kept, that we know that there are insurance policies, and that we have phone numbers for those organizations, or people we need to contact. She has worked very hard to make sure we know exactly what to do after she’s gone. She wants the peace of mind that comes with knowing that she has done everything in her power to help us get through those first few months. She wants us to be okay.
I know what she is doing and why she is doing it, but at the same time, this is all so hard to deal with. My brother’s especially have taken these conversations quite hard, and have chosen to try to avoid the subject whenever it comes up. For my sister and me, the reaction is a bit different. We have children so we know how she’s feeling…what she’s thinking. From the moment we find out we are pregnant with our babies, we spend every moment of our lives trying to take care of them. Even when contemplating our own mortalities, we still think of our children and try to devise plans to make sure that they are safe and taken care of after we are gone. I have thought of what my death would mean to my kids, and a few years ago I had a Will drawn up to clearly spell out my wishes as it pertains to my children. I have spoken to different family members over time in “matter of fact” and random conversations, regarding my wishes; what I want to happen when I die, how I want my kids to be raised, what I want them to know about life, and what I want them to know about me.
Having done the same for my own children, I understand what my mother is doing. She is trying to take care of us…to protect us…this is her way of assuring that we will make it through. Even knowing this, it doesn’t make it any easier to stomach. It’s hard to have these conversations with her, and be part of her planning. It’s hard to hear her talk about her funeral, how she wants to be cremated, how she wants her ashes spread over the ocean off the coast of Puerto Rico (where she was born). It is even more difficult to think that as the oldest she has asked me to be her health care proxy, which gives me the sole authority over her medical care should she not be able to make decisions for herself. It is hard to think that very difficult decisions, decisions that I may not want to make…will be left squarely on my shoulders. It is an extremely painful thought, but I am also honored that she asked me. As difficult as all of this is, I feel that it is my duty as her daughter to help her feel at ease that her wishes will be honored. She is busy trying to take care of us after she is gone, so my job RIGHT NOW, is to be here and give her peace of mind, knowing that her children are open to the conversation…available to talk through these issues and decisions with her…and most of all make her feel at ease with the fact that because of her and because of her actions…in the end we will be okay.
Have your parents or grandparents ever approached you and had a conversation over their end of life wishes and preparations? Where you open to the conversation? If you have children, have you thought about drawing up a Will to spell out your own wishes with regard to their care? Please leave a comment; I would love to hear about your experiences.