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End-of-life issues

My grandfather-in-law is dying.

My husband has been graced with four long-lived grandparents — they are all still alive and he’s 34 years old. Though there’s a good chance that that will change this fall.

C’s grandfather — a man to whom the words “crotchety” and “cussed” could be applied without hesitation — was quite healthy about a year ago. Not spry — he was in his 80s — but healthy. Especially compared to his wife, a quiet and gentle woman who, even after ten years with her grandson, I really don’t know very well. She had been failing by degrees for some time — heart trouble then lungs then her mental faculties started to falter. It seemed inevitable that she was going to die some time in the next year or two. The realization of that was very clear in Grandpa’s face over the holidays, and it was clear that his heart quailed at the thought of life without his wife. He’s one of those loud and blustery people that clearly leans hard on his partner. 

I think that Grandpa decided, in his own ornery way, “You are not going to die before me, woman! I will die first! Don’t see if I wont!” And he just released his grasp on the world. In the space of a few months he’s gone from having a coherent (if slightly deaf-loud) conversation to not remembering how to eat. 

His birthday is this weekend and the family is gathering to celebrate and to say goodbye. 

This is sad, but not tragic. However, the way that his impending death and his wife’s illnesses have been handled have been very illustrative to me. And I suddenly find myself needing to read more about end-of-life issues.

All four of mine and The Husband’s parents are right now — and I pray likely to stay — healthy and a long way from these things. But both of the Husband’s parents are married to much older women and their health is not great. How do you deal with parent or grandparent who requires full-tme care and can’t afford help? How do you make decisions about living arrangments? How do you convince them to move from an unsafe house if they don’t want to? Is it better to leave them in a dangerous situation with dignity than to strip them of their possessions, rights, and freedoms, in order to convince yourself that they are well taken care of? 

What’s more, there are financial concerns hovering over the whole mess. My folks are okay, financially. Not great, but okay. My in laws are not. They have little or no savings — not even retirement — and no cushion. One bad fall, one illness, one car accident, one lay off, and the whole house of cards comes tumbling down.

What if one them gets hurt or laid off and can’t pay the mortgage? We’re barely scraping by as it is — we certainly can’t afford to foot another mortgage or rent. We live in an 800-sq.-foot condo — no one could live with us right now. And, I’m ashamed to admit, I whimper at the idea of having to take care of an invalid and a two-year-old. I know others have done it, but the idea defeats me.

It’s something I really haven’t thought about until lately. But with both my aunts’ deaths in the past few years and now Grandpa, I feel like I need to know more. 

So I’ve started to collect books, articles, even a NYT blog, about the issue. About medical proxies and wills, about probate issues and durable powers of attorney, about hospice care, pallative care, about “end-of-life” issues. I hate that phrase. It’s so… anaseptic. Can’t ‘ e just say death? About dying. About old age, infirmities, about the gut wrenching decisions that make you balance your child’s future college payments against your mother’s current mortgage payments.

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  1. September 9, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    You are brave to start dealing with all of this. It’s not easy to even think about, let alone start to research and plan.

    And it’s a new perspective as a parent myself now–I shudder to think about my kids and their families having to worry about me when I’m older and putting a burden on them…

  2. anon
    September 10, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    i am thinking about all this too, as my father was recently diagnosed with cancer and my father-in-law has a terminal illness.

    it is hard and scary. isn’t it interesting and odd that we don’t talk about death more publicly and openly when death is one of the only things we know we all have in common?

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