I’m at that age where my parents need more help from me, though they’d never ask. I find I need to talk about power of attorney and advance directives, money and death, awkward at best. Worse, maybe, than the pre-teen sex talks. But I’m no longer on the receiving end; I play the parent now. And I’m finding it hard to handle.
My parents belong to what many call the “greatest generation,” the ones who grew up during the depression and fought in WWII. Their Western Pennsylvania roots go deep into those coal veined hills. My dad, now fighting a recurrence of cancer, has returned home to die. (I’m beginning to think that’s not as morbid as it sounded when he first said it, ten years ago. I am older now, too.) My mom, who has developed a mild dementia, lives much of the time in that hallowed past. She offers prompts, and I picture thick ice halting barge traffic on the Allegheny, and city lights sparkling off the Ohio River as she rides the night train home from the city to the north hills. I imagine her grandmother feeding the stranger who begs at the kitchen door, and her grandfather laying pennies on the tracks for passing trains to flatten. He doesn’t talk much about his life, but I also picture my father reading the telegram with the news that his only brother, a gunner on the “No Regrets,” was shot down over Cognac, France, December 31, 1943.
Playing the parent forces me to face death head-on. And one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned, one reinforced by my work at Hosparus, is to ask for help.
Sometimes death pounces with no notice, but I seem to have been given time to linger over the details, to ponder the care alternatives. What is best for mom and dad? What is best for me, for my family? And how do I reconcile the two? Child turns to parent; I play the parent now. I am thankful for the resources at my disposal, and pray for the choices I have made.
Here are several resources:
National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization Hosparus online Wills Planner for your own end-of-life preparation End of life care for cancer patients (from the National Cancer Institute at NIH) Advance Directives (by state)