Watching your parents and family grow old is difficult. My parents are at an age where their health continues to decline. My mother has been the caregiver for both her sister and my father as their health declined. It is not easy to see people that you love slowly slipping away from the world.
Two weeks ago my aunt passed away. She had been in the ‘memory unit’ of an assisted living facility for two years and had become increasingly isolated and angry. She would imagine things that she was sure were real but did not happen.
For many years I talked to my aunt on the phone weekly, but in the years leading up to her move into assisted living, talking on the phone became more and more difficult. In the last two years, her mental processes and hearing declined to the point where we could no longer have our weekly phone conversations.
While I wanted to have my aunt in mind and to see her on a regular basis, my own busy life made it difficult. Buy the time she passed away, I was sad but also ready for her to move on. She, also, had been ready to move on for a very long time.
My mother and father, who were in Florida for the winter, flew up to Philadelphia to take care of the final paperwork for my aunt with the funeral home and to move her things out of the assisted living facility. Four days later they flew back to Florida.
When I talked to my father, who is 89 years old, the day after he returned to Florida, and asked him how things had gone in Philadelphia with my aunt, his reply was both funny and sad at the same time. “Didn’t you hear? She passed away!” “Yes dad, I know she passed away. I meant, how did things go taking care of everything?” In reality, my mother had taken care of everything, so my father could not say much more than that things had gone fine.
Then what came next in the conversation was even stranger. My father went on to tell me that when he got back to Philadelphia in April, he was going to see if he could get insurance coverage to drive again. How blunt should be with this man? “Dad, that is really not a good idea,” I said. “I do not think it is safe for you to drive.” He was incredulous. “Really!” He said with a level of surprise. “Why do you say that?” “Well dad, you have not driven for over a year. You had major heart valve repair surgery last summer. When you last drove you sideswiped three cars and totaled your own car. The insurance company reduced your liability insurance to such a low level that you felt you could no longer afford the risk of driving. And, I doubt anyone will give you insurance at your age.” He was not happy with me. “Really!” He said again. “You are a pessimist!” “Yes, I am,” I replied, “but I still do not think you should drive.” “Well,” he said, “we will see.” When I asked him why he wanted to drive, his answer was sad and telling. “I feel isolated,” he said.
A day later my mother called me. She was in her car alone. “I want to talk to you about your father,” she said. “You and your brother need to get your arms around your father’s finances as quickly as you can. He is declining. He forgets things. I have to constantly tell him what to do next.” For a while now my brother and I have been digging into my father’s finances to make sure my parents have enough to live on, and that my father does not blindly spend what money they have, down to a level that my mother, who will likely survive my father, will not have enough money to live on. I assured my mother that I had a good idea of my father’s finances and that I would continue to look into his assets and understand what he was spending.
My mother went on to ask me not to tell my siblings, there are five of us, what she had said about my father. “They will all get emotional hearing their father is declining. I know you will be thoughtful and rational.” I was the stable, rational one. I was the pessimist and realist about what was about to come next. I knew where my parents were in their cycle of life and had no false images of what was to come next. But my siblings were not blind. They see my father’s decline. While they may be more sentimental than me, they are not ignorant of the reality of what is to come.
I know these kinds of events are a right of passage as we grow old. I have read a number of books on death and dying that have helped me understand the aging process and what happens in death. I was a volunteer Emergency Medical Technical for over five years and have seen death up close. Death does not scare me. My parent’s death does not scare me, but it will sadden me. I will miss my parents and aunt being alive on this planet.