A whole week already since I’ve last written! I don’t know where my time goes sometimes.
Last Sunday afternoon, my parents hosted a family meeting. My dad had asked all of his kids to come talk with him and Mom about … Well, I thought we’d discuss living circumstances, for one thing. My parents’ four-level home is no longer suitable for either of them. They have great difficulty with all of the stairs and a single level situation would be much better. We didn’t resolve anything though. As always, we skated around the topic without actually making any progress toward really addressing this concern. However, I’ve long since resolved myself to the fact that they aren’t comfortable moving and it won’t happen until there’s no other choice. And at least my sister and I are nearby enough to come help when help is needed. Though I sure would prefer for them to be in a place where emergency help is close at hand.
We talked a little bit about their wishes for funeral arrangements. Some of this is documented, thankfully, although not formally. At least we have something. And my parents do seem willing to actually deal with these arrangements today. Dad, being a retired Catholic deacon, is concerned about which stole he’ll wear when he’s laid out in his casket. He said he isn’t really fond of any of his. At least we can find one he likes now, while he’s still here to express his opinion on it!
My dad wanted to talk about who wanted what. There are some old leather-bound books that were important to him. My dad played a part in the assembly of these books at one of his jobs long ago. As a young husband and father, he purchased and brought home a copy of each book he’d helped create. Coffee table books, I guess, is how I’d describe them. As kids, we took great pleasure in paging through them and admiring the colorful photos within. He sent a couple of books home with each of us that day. I got the Norman Rockwell book, which makes me happy. Norman Rockwell was a big part of our home decor while I was growing up and I have a nostalgic attachment to his work.
There was discussion about wedding rings and Christmas ornaments that have sentimental value. There are some old, old home movies and we talked about researching whether we can still get them transferred to DVD. Hopefully they’re not so deteriorated that they’re lost to us. Ultimately though, we agreed that while we could spend hours that day “divvying up” all of my parents’ stuff, it was more important for them to get a formal will in place. My sister has taken charge of finding the best options for that and hopefully we can check that need off the list soon. Besides, it just seemed a bit morbid to start laying claim to my parents’ things while they’re still here with us. And one sibling failed to show up for the meeting without explanation. So it was tough to make decisions that would have been best made while everyone was present and able to voice opinions.
I’m grateful that my sister and I finally got my parents to sit down with us and fill out health care directives. We did this the previous Tuesday evening. I’ve had the paperwork for a year, but haven’t been able to get my parents to agree to sit and complete it. Mom has had a few more bad days lately than usual. I think that prompted the agreement to finally tackle the paperwork. I’m relieved to have that under our belts.
The whole meeting left all of us feeling a bit out-of-sorts, I think. I’m struggling with mixed feelings. Part of me feels like I’m pushing my parents to think about and do things they’re not comfortable addressing. While my sister and I feel it’s important to deal with this stuff now, the other siblings don’t seem to feel good about discussing these things. I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not being unfair. We’re only trying to take care of them as best we know how, and make sure we know their wishes while they’re still here to voice them. No one wants to think about the days when we’ll part ways with our loved ones. But the reality is, it can’t be avoided by simply refusing to think about it. I guess I’m more relieved than guilty. Once we get all of the difficult stuff formally documented, we can relax a little bit and enjoy the days we still have together.
On the bright side, I took my parents to the transplant clinic this week for my dad’s annual kidney health check. It was six years in July since the transplant operation and thanks to a daily buffet of medications, my dad appears to be doing very well. There was a slight increase in Dad’s creatinine level (which measures kidney function.) His doctor didn’t seem to feel it was cause for alarm, but said he would be scheduling an ultrasound for Dad in the coming weeks, just to be sure nothing’s going in the wrong direction.
This annual appointment is actually a series of appointments including blood tests, bone density tests, a meeting with a nurse, a pharmacist and the nephrologist. Dad also has to fill out an annual survey about how he’s doing and feeling since his kidney transplant. The thing is about eighteen pages long, and since Dad’s vision is poor, I was reading the questions to him and filling it out for him. (Really loved getting to ask him about his sexual function! Gah!) Dad, being my dad, couldn’t just answer any question. He wanted to elaborate on every single question, which really wasn’t necessary. (Thankfully he didn’t do this with the sexual function question!) We might have been there for two weeks before finishing the darn thing. So as he was called back for various tests, I told my mom that we’d just keep going on the survey and answer the questions for Dad to the best of our knowledge.
We laughed at questions such as, In the past four weeks, due to your current health, have you felt stubborn or obstinate? There were always six response options ranging from Very True to Not at all true. Mom and I laughed, joking that there should have been an All my life option on this one.
And Dad, who is known for his weird sense of humor, but not necessarily for being truly funny, actually made me laugh out loud. While sitting with the pharmacist and reviewing the long list of Dad’s medications and dosages, he was then asked if he drinks alcohol.
Occasionally, he said.
Did he use tobacco? No.
Marijuana? Can’t afford it, he quipped.
Dad! I exclaimed laughing! The young pharmacist took it in stride and laughed along with us. She said it might not be long before it’s legal here in Minnesota anyway, at least for medicinal purposes.
Might be kind of fun to add it to Dad’s daily regimen. Might really ease that stubborn and obstinate thing! :-) (Don’t worry… I say that with love!)
Seriously, though, there are big lessons in all of this. Mark and I have realized the importance of addressing our end-of-life wishes now, while it still feels like a distant concern. I want to keep as much of this burden off my own kids’ shoulders as humanly possible.