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I just read an article that should go viral. It probably won’t because it’s about death and I’ve noticed a common thread in my posts about death — people don’t love reading them! But that’s because death has such a bad reputation. Read this article and maybe, just maybe it’ll start to change your view. This man’s mother died a “good death,” due in part to her loving choices.
This is going to sound strange but the day my father died was simultaneously one of the saddest and most beautiful days of my life. He died in my home, as he requested. He knew it was coming; he had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer only 7 weeks earlier. My husband and I were home, as were my three little girls. We had watched a movie the day before and the next day my dad was conscious but a bit restless. My husband and I took turns sitting with him and listening to his thoughts about his life. It was pretty surreal and within a few hours, he fell asleep but remained restless. We sat by his side because we worried he’d get out of bed and fall. He was sleeping but struggling a bit to breathe. We comforted him and let him know he didn’t have to fight so hard, it was okay to let go. When he did let go and die, essentially in his sleep, he was peaceful and serene, almost smiling.
I was grateful to be able to accompany my father on the journey of his last days. Metaphorically and almost literally, I held his hand until we both had to let go. I believe he knew I was there the whole time at the end and I felt comforted by his presence too. He had helped my throughout my life and it seemed fitting and coming full circle for me to be able to help him when he needed it. I was unspeakably sad but it felt natural, like this was the way death should be — a moment of beauty, a moment of love, a moment of the most poignant communication.
You can help your aging parents have that same kind of good death. But only if you take proactive measures to make that happen. It starts with communication. Click here for a previous post to help you get that ball rolling. The good death awaits.
In the song, (which I hope you’ll let play while you read this post) one of the most poignant of all Beatles’ songs, the lyric says simply, “I don’t know why nobody told you how to unfold your love.”
George Harrison hit the perfect note with the suggestion that love should unfold. The description is particularly apt when speaking to your parent about his or her end of life. Unfold your love, unfold your compassion, unfold your desire to help your parent live out the rest of life peacefully.
How do you unfold these things? Gently and slowly, just as the word “unfold” implies. If your parent is dying, if he or she has been given a prognosis with an end date, it’s time to talk about that end. It doesn’t have to be a horrible conversation. If done correctly, it can be a thing of beauty.
Open with the reason why you want to talk about the future. Acknowledge the prognosis. A simple, “I know the doctor says (whatever the doctor said about the future) and I want to talk about it so that we can make sure the rest of your time is peaceful and comfortable. If you’ve had a loving relationship with your parent, if he or she has often been your caretaker or cheerleader during your life, you can say that and say you want to return the favor. You can say you want to do for your parent what he or she did for you when you were growing up. If you didn’t have the most loving and close relationship with your parent, you can still say, “You’re my father/mother and I want to do right by you. I want your life to be the best it can be in the months ahead.”
You can say you want to talk about the medical options and the choices that have to be made. If your parent cannot stay in his or her home, where will he or she live? Does your father believe in being kept alive at all costs? Does your mother want to be put on a breathing machine if she can no longer breathe on her own? Does your dad want to be fed through a tube after he cannot eat? Does your mom want to continue to take all medications or would she prefer taking only those that make her more comfortable? If your parent has the ability to think clearly, these are decisions he or she should make.
Beyond the medical questions, there are financial decisions to be made. Does your parent have a will and if not, arrange for one to be drawn up immediately. Does your parent have a Power of Attorney? That is a person he or she would like to take charge of his or her finances if she is still alive but cannot handle business matters. That should be one of the first pieces of business you discuss as you never know when that time will come.
Does your parent have treasured possessions he’d like distributed and if so, to whom?
Of course these are not and should not be questions you cover all in one session. Talking to a parent about dying happens gently, slowly and over some time. But if your parent has gotten that terminal prognosis, regardless of how much time is predicted to remain, don’t wait too long to begin the talk. Protecting your parent is of paramount importance and you will need his or her help to do that. Don’t assume that because you have a close family problems won’t arise. When parents die, emotions run high and people become sad and sometimes desperate. Don’t let your parent’s death take a toll on your family’s future. Talk to your parent and be sure he or she lets your siblings and their spouses know his or her wishes. Open communication with the whole family goes a long way toward keeping peaceful interactions among the family members when the going gets rough and the days get shorter.
Be gentle but be brave enough to let your love unfold… before it’s too late.
I’m grateful to be having one of the most perfect weeks ever on beach vacation with my two-year-old grandson. Not going to say he’s the best boy in the world (although just between you and me, he is) because, let’s face it, everyone loves their own best. BUT… he is pretty awesome and I can prove it. Here are five things I learned from him this week.
1. CRY IF YOU MUST. It’s okay to cry over spilled milk. The old adage is just wrong. If your milk spills, feel free to let the tears flow with it. No you can’t put the milk back into the cup, which is what the adage meant to teach. You can, however, make yourself feel better about the mistake you made and shouldn’t we all be able to do that — to make a mistake, deal with it, cry about it, and then be done with it forever?
2. I’M SORRY ARE TWO OF THE MOST POWERFUL WORDS. Admit your mistakes readily. If you do accidentally take a green crayon and color on the walls and furniture in your room while you’re supposed to be napping on the big boy bed which affords you the freedom a crib denied you, just say you did it when anyone like your grandmother says, “Did you do this?” Admit your grievous error and look up with adoration and a touch of remorse in your eyes and dimples in your cheeks (if you got ’em, flaunt ’em) and loudly announce. “Yes. I draw with green crayon on the furniture and on the walls, Grammy. I sorry.” When you err and admit it openly, people are often quick to forgive.
3. SHOW YOUR JOY FOR ALL THE WORLD TO SEE. You can revel in the waves coming toward you over and over and over again. You can love them and enjoy them every time as if you are seeing each one for the first time ever. And when you do love something that much, you really should scream with delight. Unbridled joy from the most natural of phenomena is under appreciated among grownups. When was the last time you simply screamed with delight? (keeping in mind this post is rated G.)
4. The only thing that matters is RIGHT NOW. Only concern yourself with what’s in your personal space — the things you see, hear, taste, feel, and smell. The rest of the world can be ignored in this moment. The two-year-old in two inches of warm ocean water doesn’t fear the shark attacks making the news. He feels the rush of the warm water and the sand between his toes. He doesn’t watch the news while on vacation. The only thing that’s pertinent to his life is what he’s experiencing RIGHT NOW. So if RIGHT NOW is good, all’s right with the world. Life is good. He’s not thinking about the next minute or tomorrow’s weather or even what’s going to happen five minutes from now. He’s the most zen being ever and in that regard he’s a genius compared to the rest of us.
5. MAKING FRIENDS IS EASY. Strangers are really just people you haven’t yet gone up to waving and yelling, “Hi friends.” If you approach a stranger with a smile, a outstretched hand of greeting, and a kind salutation, you can have a new friend in 60 seconds.
Brilliant! Thanks to Nicholas Rossis for this terrific idea for authors.
Book Gorilla Author Page
I usually post every other day, to avoid clogging up your mailboxes. Still, I occasionally have something to share between days, so I make an exception. The first thing I wanted to share today is my new Book Gorilla page. Book Gorilla is one of the places I use to advertise my books, and they recently started offering authors the opportunity of a free author page. You can find out more on:
- Authors, Would You Like Your Own BookGorilla Author’s Page, Totally Free?
- BookGorilla Author’s Page Input Form
3-day Quote Challenge
The second news concerns a fun challenge by thrillofbliss. She tagged me on what she calls a quote challenge. You can share your favorite quote (even if written by you) and also inspire people. The rules of the challenge are pretty straight-forward:
- Thank the person who nominated you.
- Post your quote.
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I learn so much from Sally Cronin and this post is a great example of what a good teacher she is. Writers, take your mark! Go!
Special Note: If you’re interested in reading Tales From the Family Crypt, it will be FREE on Amazon on Thursday, May 28 and Friday May 29! This is the only free promotion planned for this book. If you download and read it, please, please, please consider putting your review on Amazon (and Goodreads if you’re on there). I’m truly grateful for your help in engaging more people in important discussions about family issues like those in the book. Feel free to tell everyone you know about the free download on Thursday 5/28/15 and Friday 5/29/15.
In my previous post I suggested (gently and with music) people take time out of their lives to talk about death. Why? Because it’s the one thing we all have in common and yet, we’re doing it pretty poorly. We don’t talk about death because we’re afraid it might happen. Newsflash: It’s going to happen. We are all going to go sometime. If you talk about it you’re going to die, and if you don’t talk about it, you’re going to die. But if you discuss it your death could be easier for you and for everyone you love who cares about you.
Think this isn’t going to be a problem in your family? Think again. It’s a problem in way more families than you think. Even in the ones who least expect it. Death brings out the worst in people. While the battles are often motivated by money, greed isn’t the only motivator. We love our parents and we want to hold onto them so some folks go to battle over sentimental items or power. We battle trying to prove “Mom always loved me best.” Or, “I really was the best child Dad raised.” We battle over who gets the pin Grandma wore to her wedding or who gets to keep the watch Dad got when he retired. (Yeah, that used to happen!) If you doubt my suggestion about how big a problem these battles are, Google Family Inheritance Battles and How to Avoid Them. Heads up, though. You’ll get 13,100,000 hits. More than 13 million suggestions for staving off what might be ahead.
I don’t have 13 million suggestions, just 10, but if you follow any of them, you’re likely to avoid having to read through the 13 million suggestions later.
1. Talk about your death with your adult children and talk the death of your parents with your parents. Discuss what you believe about the end of life and how it should be handled. Ask them what they believe. Air this topic out, don’t shroud it in darkness. Letting light in by simply bringing up the topic over family dinner will make it way more palatable.
2. If someone “Pooh Poohs” you and says, “Let’s change the subject, this is too depressing or too morbid,” simply respond gently. “I don’t think it’s morbid at all. It’s just a reality we all have to face and won’t it be a lot easier if we face it together?” Because the truth is, it will be easier to handle end of life together.
3. Have a will. Where there’s a will, there’s a way to a more peaceful transition. If you are reading this blog, you’re probably an adult. If you don’t have a will, you have no way of knowing what will happen to the things you care about after you die. In some states if you die without a will the things you own and the money you have may go to your state. No one wants that! (Except maybe your governor) Writing a will may be done best with an attorney but if that doesn’t work for you don’t worry. There are will templates on the Internet. There are free options and a few you have to pay to download. Look at a few, choose one you like and fill it in as needed. State who gets what after you die and don’t leave anything to chance. Then make a few copies and sign each in front of two witnesses. Keep a copy for your records, maybe even two copies, and give the others to a few key people you trust.
4. Talk about love. Ultimately most of the family battles over money are really over love. If you air your feelings openly while you’re alive, if you resolve conflicts while you’re alive, you won’t have your heirs battling over your grave.
5. Be open about the reality of your plans. If you do have a will, let your family know what you’ve included in it. It’s best if you don’t use your will to deliver any sort of message you should have delivered while you were still breathing.
6. There’s a saying, “When you assume, you make an ass of u and me.” It’s so true in terms of family battles. You might think you have the perfect family and so you don’t have to worry about anyone fighting over anything. I’m happy for you if you feel that way and I hope for your sake you’re right. But, you know what? You’re probably wrong. Even in families where everyone feels close it’s hard to predict who will start fighting when a loved one is sick and/or dying and everyone is stressed out. So, if you do have a loving family, protect it by doing what needs to be done in advance to avoid battles later… even if you’re sure your family is immune to such rifts. They’re not. No family is.
7. Pick a point person, give someone what’s known as “Power of Attorney.” What that means is that you are allowing someone to act with your full range of power over your money and your life, acting as your agent as if they were you. You choose this person to make decisions for you if and when you can’t make them anymore. Choose someone you trust with your life, because they literally will be running your life. Don’t choose two people because they would then have to agree on every point and that will be very difficult for any two people to do. You can choose one person and a back up person but not two to serve together. Power of Attorney is only put into place while you are alive and can’t function. Once you are dead the executor of your will takes over in decision-making capacity. And, yes, the same person can serve in both ways if you want that. You can also break up Power of Attorney and choose one person to make financial decisions and one person to make health decisions if you prefer.
8. Consider how you want to die. Do you want to be kept alive at all costs? Do you want to be hooked up to machines which may breathe for you and/or feed you? Do you want to be kept alive beyond the time you can fully function? Do you want heroic measures done to save you despite how infirm you may be? Okay, these are ghastly things to think about. I get that. But you know what’s more ghastly? It’s forcing your loved ones to make these choices for you without knowing for sure what you would have preferred because you never said so.
9. Let superstitions go. Cannot stress strongly enough what a waste of time these distractions are. You can’t “luck” your way out of dying.
10. Seek help. If you can at all afford to do so, check with an attorney in drawing up these legal papers. It may cost a bit but that money might be very well spent if it helps your family avoid problems later.
I hope you take this matter seriously and yet not think of it as too sad. Death is just a part of life and it doesn’t have to be disastrous. If you have any suggestions to add you think might help folks going through some difficulties with this, please comment here and share. And feel free to send this post along to everyone you’ve ever met in your life, especially if you’re related to them!
The more people I connect with, the more I realize just how much dysfunction many of us deal with in our families. This blog post resonated with me in a big way. I hope you find it as compelling as I did. Plus, I loved the photos!
I am humbled and yet laughing at this interview Q and A. Enjoy. Then check out her wonderful website for yourself!
What happens when sibling rivalry goes awry? As challenging as it is during one’s formative years when it’s an ongoing quest to prove via Mother’s Day gifts, handmade cards and good deeds that “Mom likes me the best,” fractious relationships with brothers and sisters tend to escalate in adulthood if a deceased parent’s final wishes are neither written down nor carried out. In her latest book, Tales From The Family Crypt: When Aging Parents Die, Sibling Rivalry Lives, Deborah Carroll serves up an entertaining and insightful retrospective of dysfunctional family dynamics as seen through the lens of personal experience.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: It’s often said that truth is stranger than fiction. Would you say that’s an apt label for the vitriolic interactions that transpire(d) in your own family tree?
A: Let’s put it this way: My family tree is so screwy, even monkeys are frightened! I…
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A friend recently posted a note to my husband on Facebook. It was a music video by Greg Brown about a man who’s “rich in daughters.” Since we are exactly that, she sent my husband the video to enjoy, which he did. Love the concept of “rich in daughters.” We have three. They are simply fabulous: warm, caring, compassionate, smart, responsible, funny, pleasant to hang out with, what more could any parent ask?
So, yes, we are rich in daughters. That prompted me to think about what else we are “rich” in. Would I trade any of it for being rich in the currency most people measure wealth in — actual wealth?
I’m rich in friends. Could write endless odes to my friends. They are varied but they share one characteristic; they are damn good people. As readers of “Tales From the Family Crypt” know, my extended family, described succinctly, stink. So my friends have become family, which explains why I haven’t completely lost my mind (unless maybe I have and don’t know it) from dealing with my actual family. In fact just the other day I was talking to a friend about a party she was having. I asked her if she invited her friend Carol and she said she hadn’t as the gathering was small and intimate, just for family. I suppose I cocked an eyebrow or indicated in some way my question about why we were invited and as if she heard my thought she sent a dismissive wave my way and said, “Well, you’re family.” Love that! Made me feel loved and special. So, clearly we’re rich in friends.
We’re rich in the natural beauty of our environmental surroundings. We enjoy an idyllic backyard, seen daily from the big sliding glass door in my kitchen. I eat meals gazing at greenery, trees, mosses, sometimes flowers, sometimes deer and groundhogs, and even a fox or two. It’s serene and calming.Moments away I can hike in parks and be enveloped in nature if I need to get away from the sounds of the real world. Summers we walk on the beach gazing at ocean vistas from the shore. We are the Trumps, the Oprahs, and the other rich people of natural beauty. (For the record I wouldn’t want to be the real Trumps or Oprahs.)
We are rich in sense of humor. I find a lot of things funny. Sometimes I am quite annoying announcing the stuff that cracks me up. My husband is the class clown and has been out of class (pun intended) for many years. He makes people laugh, sometimes causing food and drink to come out of their noses because they are laughing so hard.
We are rich in time. We have scheduled our lives in ways that mean every minute of every day is not accounted for. We have time some days to just “be” and not have to be anywhere doing anything.
We are rich in appreciation of things that give us pleasure. I love to write, to read, to run, to listen to music, to cook (sometimes), to eat, to take pictures, to work with glass mosaic and to discover new things to love. I even like my job and have for many years. I’m not that good at many of the fun things I try but I’m rich in the fact I don’t care all that much about how I do stuff, just that I can.
And, no there’s not one thing on my “rich” list I’d trade for more money. Because if I had more money, I’d probably want to buy access to some of these things, anyway.
I’m rich in the love of rainbows. I’m almost obnoxious about it. Enjoy.
So what are you rich in? Would you trade it for monetary richness? I promise not to judge you. I’m aware money can also make people happy. I know they say it can’t, but let’s face it, sometimes it does and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.