We talk about how we want to live. I say let’s also talk about how we want to grow old, and how we want to die. After all, it’s going to happen to us all!
Over the past 11 months, in taking care of my mum’s affairs and being with my sister who was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I’ve had some conversations I never imagined. They have been necessary; many focused on practicalities. Had they taken place earlier, the challenge of being with loved ones getting old or sick may have been easier.
Mum was formally diagnosed as having dementia 18 months ago, although it had been evident to my sister and I for a number of years that she was becoming increasingly forgetful. It was only when we made a medical intervention that the diagnosis was confirmed. That, in itself, was a challenge – having someone examine our parents when they insist ‘there’s nothing wrong with me’. Just as with children, sometimes a dose of ‘tough love’ is necessary when it comes to taking care of our parents.
Because ‘there’s nothing wrong with me’, mum said ‘no’ to any help. Underneath it all, I sense she wanted my sister to take care of her.
She had a stroke in May last year, and as a result lost her capacity to understand and was left with little ability to communicate. She was considered to need residential care, however because she had mental incapacity she couldn’t give her consent. And, because she had resisted support, the Mental Health Officer was not convinced that it would have been her wish to be placed in residential care.
Twenty years earlier, she had given my sister a Power of Attorney to take care of her finances should anything happen to her. My sister lived nearby, I lived on the other side of the world, and so it was a sensible, practical choice to nominate my sister. The legal document made no mention of giving my sister power to take care of mum’s heath and welfare. The law was changed after the original power was given …with the result that my sister and I had to go to Court to apply for a Guardianship Order to be given the necessary authority to act on mum’s behalf in terms of her health and welfare. The process took three months, during which time mum had to remain in hospital. Medically this was not necessary.
When my sister was later diagnosed with cancer, we learned that the financial Power of Attorney could not be transferred to me when she died…and mum was not in a position to create a new one. The result is I’m unable to access my mum’s bank account and take care of any expenses. The opportunity was to get creative in finding ways to make sure that payments work easily!
Moral of the story? It’s important to talk about what we want to happen if we become incapacitated and cannot make decisions. It’s important to appoint more than one person to act on our behalf. We need to talk about our wishes…when it comes to accommodation, medication, ‘Do not resuscitate’ orders, selling the house, monies… and also to talk about what we want to happen when we die. Funeral, cremation, hymns…? Practicalities. Making choices on behalf of another is not an easy business, particularly when we’re experiencing the emotional pain of losing a loved one.
When someones life is slipping away, we want to ease what’s happening for them so they can come to a place of acceptance and peace if possible. Knowing what matters to them can make all the difference. We can then spend what time we have with them cherishing every moment, saying what we want to say, being present on the most important journey a soul takes as it transitions to the light.
My sister chose to enjoy every moment she had with those she loved. What an inspiration!
If you are dealing with a challenge around ageing parents or being with someone who is dying, contact me and we can have a chat if you feel it might help.