My Dad Made it Easy

My father died at the end of May, 2013 at the age of 95.   He lived a life that took him to all the places he wanted to go, and do all the things he wanted to do. It was a very peaceful death for all of us.  He had thought through what he wanted at the end of his life, and how he wanted to die.  I would like to share our family story, and how this came to be.

In my parent’s early 60’s, my mom and dad wrote their will, Power of Attorney and Power of Attorney for Healthcare.  At the time there wasn’t much information about leaving instructions to your children on the care you wanted, or how you wanted to live the last weeks or days of your life. However, my mother had seen a letter in the newspaper which had been written by a parent to his/her children about this very topic.  My mother copied the letter on her typewriter, edited it to fit her situation, signed it, had it notarized and included it with her will. Dad copied the same letter and put it in with his will.

After Mom died at 87, we realized how important that paper had been in helping us fulfill Mom’s last wishes.  Mom had a sudden stroke and could not talk or communicate.  Her stroke came as a surprise, and we weren’t thinking clearly.  However, Mom had told us what she wanted in case something like this happened.  It was a comfort to all of us that Mom had shared this, because we did not have to guess at this difficult time.

On Thanksgiving Day in 2011, six years after Mom died, I came to the dreaded conclusion that Dad could no longer take care of himself in the home that he and Mom had built together.  Dad was not taking his medicine, was eating only one meal a day, and was unable to keep his house clean.  Dad lived on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and did not want to leave the place where he had so many friends.  My brothers and I lived in Illinois and Massachusetts.

We realized we needed to find a new place for dad, and the house was put up for sale.  His possessions were sold or distributed amongst children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.  We found a great place for dad to live – it was beautiful and the people caring for him were wonderful.  We all felt much better.  I became the Executor of his Estate, and managed everything from Illinois.

Eight years after my mom died, my dad passed away peacefully in his bed at the assisted living home.  The beauty of it was that dad and I had talked so much  since Mom died that I really understood what he wanted and was able to fulfill his wishes.  What’s even more special was that my brothers and I did not have one argument about anything related to caring for Dad, or his estate and its distribution because he had clearly outlined everything along the way.

As the Executor, I did not wonder about what I should or should not do. However, there were times I did doubt whether or not there was more I could do for him –  I would then go back to the documents he had written and everything would become clear again.

I know first hand how special this was. I am a Clinical Psychologist and have had many people come to me because of family conflict around caring for someone at end-of-life and the confusion and pain it can cause when people disagree about medical and estate matters. I am so very grateful for what Mom and Dad did for us in their last hours on this planet.  It created a great sense of peace amongst the four siblings as we moved forward because our parents had advance directives in place.

I have already completed my advance directives and shared them with my children. Have you completed this very important communication with those you love and who love you?

Dr. Barbara Grace, PhD, Psychologist, Family Therapist, End of Life Coach, Spiritual Advisor
Barrington Resident 45 years