Monday, July 7, 2008

Planning for Aging

Though we're not exactly spring chickens, Jack and I aren't quite at the point where we feel we need to be too preoccupied with planning for our dotage yet. I say this, but even if we're not in our advanced years, we've come to understand life can certainly "happen" despite our plans, or lack of plans.

His mother, a healthy and strong woman all her life, was diagnosed recently with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer. She has chosen to forgo any treatments, and instead to die at home where she most wants to be. She has chosen, true to form for her, to do things her own way. I admire her for that...Jack and I usually find ourselves choosing to do things "our way," meaning not always following the prescribed or expected way.

Jack is traveling to his mom's today, and has been under more stress lately. One of his job assignments came to an end recently, putting him down to a single day of work last week. That will not pay our bills. He's job hunting...and trying to figure out the arrangements surrounding his mother's impending death...and trying to deal with the reality of her no longer being in his life. Add into that some sticky situations with family members best not to be around, but impossible to avoid since there will likely be some folks coming out of the woodwork as the funeral date draws nearer.

His mother had the foresight many years ago to make arrangements in advance of just such a situation. This has made things much easier for Jack, since all her wishes are in writing, are prepaid, and she gave him documents to that effect a long time ago. It's still painful for him to have to be dusting them off and reading through it all, grieving and yet trying to remain clear-headed enough to keep it all straight. Add to that our financial situation...a single fill-up of gasoline for his vehicle is $70, and our incoming money is but a whisper just now. Every trip out of town to his mother's is necessary, important...and extremely taxing to our resources. I'm not complaining...this is our reality at present. You can't always pick your timing...

The stimulus check was anticipated, prior to any of this, as being designated for some backlogged necessities and tools...mostly to pay off more debt, which would give us some more budgetary breathing room. Possibly to chuck some towards a water distiller, as our Berkey still does not remove the sulfur smell/taste from our water ....though it's pure enough to drink and cook with, it imparts an awful taste that fouls food and upsets the stomach. Think rotten eggs, that's the sort of smell/taste. Our idea is to run the well water through the Berkey in batches, and then to distill that into 5 gallon containers, which fit onto a drink stand (with spigot) we already have, which can be used either plugged in to cool and heat, or can be used unplugged, at room temperature. But I digress.

We spent the money a different way. We bought Jack a suit...he doesn't have a suit. Because we rarely dress formally, and the relaxed nature of Florida is not nearly as buttoned-up even for special occasions as it is in the other parts of the country, he's always gotten by with a sport jacket and some nicer trousers. That's entirely different than my upbringing, where men had at least a few nice suits that were kept impeccably pressed and hung and had varying ties to match. It did my heart good when we walked into the menswear store when the salesman assessed the situation very smoothly, and made the selection, sizing, and fitting a seamless process from start to well he should for that price. It's been a long time since either of us has needed some clothes like that. We also included an appropriate blouse for me, too. By the time we'd shopped for these and purchased them, it was bye-bye stimulus check. But we realize it came at just the right time. We had no idea there'd be a funeral in our near future to plan for. With him as his mom's only child, he will be the sole survivor of her line, and the key person at the memorial to be alongside her surviving (and frail) husband.

I'm so proud of him (my husband) and I'm so glad he'll have something nice to wear now. I find it hard to know how to help him at this time, because he's a strong person. So is his mom. As she sleeps more and more right now due to the increased doses of pain medicine, I find her remarkable. She has chosen where she wants to home where she most loves being...and how she chooses to spend her last days. She has never been a person who tolerates much sentimentality, and she seldom speaks of her personal feelings...that's simply how she has always been.

He calls her every day, and has always called regularly. Most of the time now, however, she is sleeping due to the pills. We sat down last night and wrote out a lengthy Thank You to her for her to read (her eyesight is great) in case Jack cannot have any private time with her to tell her things you want to say before the final goodbye...we have no way of knowing how much longer she will be conscious or feel like having conversation at all. He is there right now as we speak, delivering it to her and seeing how he might help out. Boy was that a hard letter to write. How do you sum up the things you want to say to the person who has always been a core part of your life and identity, in just a few paragraphs? How do you reduce a lifetime of relationship down to a few words of gratitude on paper? It's very inadequate.

It helps me understand that what they are to each other even now is what they've always been to each other, and it doesnt always need the right words as a vehicle. His mom's great qualities are many, and her unique personality is simply her. She raised a great son. I'm the word person, but in this situation, I'm witnessing how words are not the substance that defines anything...not even the words my husband will or won't say at the memorial service. There is a space Jack's mom occupies that cannot be filled by any other, and when that space is vacated, no one else can fill it in the same way. There are those of us who look to a time of reunion beyond this time and space, and don't call it a vain hope. We had hoped to one day have his mother join us on our future homestead, to enjoy the growing things, the flowers, the seasons, the clean and good food with us. That's not how God saw fit that things would be, however, and we don't question His ways. He knows what we don't. Acceptance is not always the easiest thing to embrace.

I'll look more at the issue of aging, as we move into a different phase soon of our journey to and on our homestead. It's an issue we can't get around, because our mortality is one of those defining events we can't exactly get around :) But, like Jack's mom, there is much we can discuss and prepare for in advance, as we contemplate the reality that people do get sick, do get injured, do lose some abilities, and do need a plan for life beyond whatever is the "prime." It can happen at 20, or like Jack's mom...95. As we look into some of those things, I'll write about them.

At the present, we're continuing to learn so much from his mom. She continues to be our respected and loved elder, parent....and now teacher, in this, an unknown chapter in which she precedes us. We are so very, very grateful for her.


Carolyn said...

What a tough time for all of you. Stay strong for each other. I will be thinking of you.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry you and your husband are facing the loss of such a monumental person in your lives. Thoughts and prayers are with you and your amazing mother in law. xoxo

TOCCO said...

This is a tough post to respond to. Transitions like these are never easy to deal with. You and Jack are in my thoughts and prayers daily!

Twinville said...

Wow. 95? She sure has lived a long and useful life. And bets of all she still has a great mind and knows what she wants. What an amazing blessing for her and her family.

I'm sorry you're all haveing to go through this right now, at not the best times. Life seems to always happen that way.

I agree about words, too. Even as as write this, I realize how pitiful, rambling and inadequate my own sound.

I think I'd better keep it simple:
Postive thoughts and prayers being sent your way for strength, peace, perserverance, and hope during this time.

Brenda Kula said...

What a caring daughter-in-law his mother has in you! She must truly cherish you, knowing he will have you to help him. Yes, we must all face mortality. We don't know when this day may be our last, and it reminds us to live each day to its fullest. I'll keep you in my thoughts. And I'm sure he will look so very handsome in his suit!
Hugs, Brenda

edifice rex said...

I wish you and your husband strength and peace for this time in your lives. I will keep you both in my prayers.

The W.O.W. factor said...

As with TOCCO, this is a tough post to respond to...but no doubt, for you a tough one to write. My heart goes out to you. We have 'been there' with my Father-in-Law 2 yrs ago. Very similiar circumstances. I was the one who drove 2 hrs to him every day, while Keith worked for the $$ for gas! I know what you are going through, how your emotions & love supercede all else in your lives.
My thoughts and prayers are with you and Jack. It is not an easy road to travel.

Country Girl said...

Great post. Our thoughts and prayers will be with you all in this difficult time. ~Kim

Robbyn said...

Carolyn, Angie, Christina, Twin, Brenda, Annie, Barb, Kim...

I'll post any updates as I have them. I'm so grateful for your across-the-miles friendships and wonderful prayers and encouragement. All I can say is that I'm humbled, and thank you!

Killi said...

A hard time for you both & you have my thoughts.

My eldest has just got married ~ very young, but having survived death myself (when I was a year older than she is now) & knowing that her husband has various conditions that could cut short his life I'm behind their chance at happiness fully. It does make you think of the future & what you can reasonably do in the present for a possible future when you've faced such things. I admire what Jack's mother has done to help smooth the way onward at this time