I’ve been struggling with writing a blog post about death and dying recently. I know that seems strange since I am an estate and elder lawyer but lately this very subject has hit close to home. Now that my dad has cancer it has hit much too close to home. (He knows I was going to write this post in some form or another so it’s not a surprise to him.)
I have spent almost 29 years counseling clients about estate planning. At some point, I started counseling clients and their families about having “the talk”. “The Talk” includes death, dying, how someone wants to die, what happens if a parent needs a nursing facility, what happens when a parent shouldn’t live alone and all the related questions that come up as our population lives longer. When I started practicing law I gave out some of the information from a place of academia. I knew the legal answers but my heart didn’t really understand. After all, I was 25 years old when I graduated from law school so what could I possibly know about how to talk to a parent about giving up his or her home and moving into an assisted living or closer to the children. I was unable to do so.
As I’ve gotten older myself, I’ve had more clients with their stories to tell as well as my own family stories. Since getting my first license to practice law, all of my grandparents have passed and so have beloved step parents, not to mention a few good friends, and the parents, spouses, and children of friends. I’ve developed a knowledge of this area that is much deeper.
Yet, both of my parents are alive and other than this awful cancer, are doing well. They live independently and motor along on their own. Neither has dementia of any sort or are frail. Mom lives in Florida and swims regularly and Dad called just this morning to say he was on his way to yoga. So I thought that I was equipped to have “the talk” with my dad.
I was wrong.
I now understand fully what my clients told me when they said “Mom is a real pain. I can’t get her to understand that I can’t drop everything and visit her every time there’s a problem. I’ve had to take vacation time. I have kids to take care of. I have a husband (or wife). I have no time for myself.” Yet that’s exactly what so many adult children do. They travel long distances for doctor’s appointments and in some cases, just to check in because Mom or Dad are frail and they feel better if they pop in regularly.
Just how do you explain to a parent that they should not stay in the home they’ve lived in for years and have made wonderful memories in? How do you get them to understand your fears about them living alone or so far away? How do you process their fear of losing their independence.
It’s a difficult dance. I wish I had the answer that went beyond the academic.
I look forward to your thoughts on this difficult question.