On July 28th, at 1:00 am in the morning my phone rang, it was the hospice nurse informing me that Mom had died at 12:28 a
And yes, our hospice nurse had prepared us for this . . . he said as nicely as he could that she was “leaving”, that “it was time” . . . using gentle words to describe death. Still, when the call came early Friday morning I wasn’t’t “prepared.” Why? Because no one ever is.
As you know if you’ve been reading my columns, the family had done all we could to prepare for death. So the lesson learned was PREPLAN. My brother and I had hired a funeral home which allowed us to make our father the focus of our lives in the the immediate days after his partner of 63 years died. He insisted on seeing her one last time, my brother called the funeral home and they prepared her for Dad’s visit. My father insisted on a small, familial memorial service — not a problem, we focused on the service and the reception after. Caterers were hired, programs were printed and music abounded.
And yes, all this costs money but there was no “guilt money”. We knew what we could spend and had done all the budgeting when hiring our funeral home. In fact, we told the director that when Dad dies he wants his ashes placed in a military cemetery in Ft. Worth, TX – next to one of his best friends, our cousin General Akin, “so they can pal around.” The funeral home takes care of that, as well.
So, yes it all worked to our benefit. Mom was cremated, some of her ashes placed in the ground at the nearby churchyard and the rest to be mixed with Dad’s when we take them to their final resting place. What doesn’t go away, nor should it, is the grief. it comes in waves. At the service when I spoke I didn’t shed a tear. Two days later, telling a ‘stranger’ the story, my eyes welled with tears.
Grief counselors tell you this is what happens. I was shocked at myself, I knew Mom was close to death but when the finality happens it hits hard! We even had time for last rites, last songs, last moments . . . but death is final and no amount of preparation prepares you for it.
Revel in the memories, think of the good times and admire your loved ones for all they accomplished . . . including you! Yes, they do live on in our hearts.
My nephew was getting married — everyone in our family was thrilled — we love his wife, love him and love that they found each other. The wedding was in Texas — Mom and Dad live in Atlanta. Mom is extremely ill and cannot travel. Dad had just gotten out of the hospital and we could not travel. Our big fear — what if one died the weekend of the wedding?
My brother and I called several funeral homes to discuss options. We also consulted friends and my brother’s priest. During the course of this journey we discovered that family owned, multi generational funeral homes tend to be more gentle and understanding. They listen to what you want and explain what you need. There are several here in Miami — the oldest is Van Orsdel who took care of Eddie Rickenbacher and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas.
Most of us hate the idea of ‘visiting the funeral home.’ The idea of death and its finality brings discomfort. In this particular case Mom and Dad are both alive and we were there for selfish reasons – not wanting a wedding interrupted by death. Yet, as I write this, it was the smartest decision we ever made (more on that later).
There is nothing INEXPENSIVE about the simplest of funerals. The entire “funeral experience” has changed. It used to be 30% of the deceased were cremated and 70% buried. Today it’s the opposite, The average cremation costs in Miami are $2000. Then you need an ash container (beginning at $100.). Caskets range from $3000 up and add to that the burial plot, the actual burial and the memorial service . . . bare bones cost is about $6000.00. And then there’s the celebration of life . . . shiva . . . wake . . . which, arguably is the most important part of this process.
The first decision is the manner of ‘the goodbye’ – cremation or a burial? This brings me to insurance policies for burials. There are policies that cost from $50.00 to $100.00 a month which will pay out enough to cover the cost of the funeral and burial. It’s all a question of how much you want to pay. I know many of us on Key Biscayne think we have the money to bury a loved one but do you really have $7,000 to $15,000 sitting around for a burial?
Once that decision is made, it’s time for the legalities. Each state is different but all require notarized signatures. An example – although I am my Mother’s Power of Attorney (POA) for everything, my father had to sign the document allowing her cremation. However, Dad is not the person who signs for his own cremation — that was my brother and me as mother is non compos mentis (not of right mind).
Lastly, the choice of the receptacle or casket – another big financial hit – or not, depending on what you choose. Today, many funeral homes offer rental caskets (a variety of pricing) for the memorial/viewing or church service of the family member who will be cremated. A new trend is “cremation viewing” . . . in other words you can watch your loved one enter the cremator.
My brother and I went through this entire experience together. My advice — do not do this alone — no matter how lovely the people at the home there is an emotional toll. Having another person with you is calming.
We now have everything in place so when “it” happens we will not be making decisions with heavy hearts or guilty minds. And, the icing on the cake – my Father asked me what arrangements we had made. I asked him if he wanted to hear what we had in mind and he said yes. I told him that he and Mom will be cremated and after both have died (and I used that word) we were flying their ashes to Ft. Worth, Texas (Dad’s a Texas boy). There we will do a memorial service at their church and a party at Riviera Country Club. Dad loved the idea! Rites and Rights – done!
Well, the call finally came, “Ms. Reaves, we’d like to re-evaluate your Mother. She has lost more of her core function and we think she might be a candidate for Hospice care.”
Here’s the thing, dear reader, I thought Mom was already a candidate for hospice but she wasn’t’ approved the first time she was evaluated. Now, she is approved and I realize — this could be the end. My emotions are mixed. I’m sad one minute then remember her non-existent quality of life and I know it’s appropriate and its time.
The wonderful thing about Hospice care is that the focus is the patient. The goal is to keep her or him as comfortable as possible. This means that besides the care Mom is already receiving there will be someone there two to three times a week to make certain she has no pain and is comfortable.
What is Hospice? I had to ask myself that question and found several definitions. First, it is a type of care and philosophy that focuses on the palliation of a chronically ill, terminally ill or seriously ill patient’s pain and symptoms, as well as attending to their emotional and spiritual needs. OK – so what is palliation? Palliation is a service that makes you feel better even though it can’t cure you.
The term “Hospice” comes from the 11th century where hospitals had an area that was “hospitality for the sick, wounded or dying”. In today’s medical and insurance world, it is palliative care for the incurably ill, either in a medical facility, nursing home or at home. Medicare covers it therefore if you’re a US Citizen or Green Card holder you are eligible.
To qualify for Hospice the patient is evaluated by a doctor or nurse practitioner and he prognosis must be that the person is terminally ill and has less than six months to live. The truth is many hospice patients live longer than six months at which time they are re-evaluated. If placed in Hospice again, the six months starts over.
In today’s medical world, (and we know I’m a bit cynical) there is both Hospice care and Palliative care. Hospice is covered by Medicare, Palliative care is not. It is often covered by insurance (if you have a PPO) or you can pay out of pocket. In both cases, the patient is going to die in the “short term” — but it might be more than six months.
This is VERY IMPORTANT: once your family member goes into Hospice or Palliative Care it means that there are NO MORE CURES. The caretakers want the patient pain free, and supported both emotionally and mentally.
If your parent or grandparent is in an Assisted Living Facility and begins a decline, the Facility prefers them to be in Hospice or Palliative Care. This means your family member will be receiving more attention but that also means their regular doctor is not in charge anymore. It’s also a signal that death is not far away – a sobering moment for you and your loved one.
During the journey many of us will take with an older family member there will come the juncture of whether to have in-home care, a move to a smaller place or a move to an assisted living facility.
On an emotional level, we all think it’s better for everyone if they stay in their home with in-home care. That works if family members are within a 15 minute drive. If this isn’t the case then one must really begin to think about “the best care.” Best care means the best for everyone concerned. These are tough issues and we tend to put off these decisions until you need to make them. That is the wrong time — you’re under an amazing amount of pressure, emotions are swirling and not all family members agree on the definition of “best care”.
My father always said he was going to die in his home. That he would only be taken out “feet first”. The children always went along with him because there was no need to rock the boat. Mother, whose dementia was getting worse, would agree with Dad. In order to accommodate Dad, we hired a caregiver to come in three times a week to “entertain” Mom. The bad news – caregivers don’t stay forever. (In this case 6 months which is a long time in the caregiver world.) We hit the jackpot with our first one but then the next three simply didn’t do the job. They were late, wouldn’t’t show up . . . all the usual employment issues.
In our opinion, several questions must be asked:
How many family members living in the home?
Do both need care?
How mobile are they?
Does anyone drive?
Do they need 24hr care or will 4 to 6 hours 3 times a week suffice?
Does anyone have dementia/alzheimer’s?
Once these questions are answered then it’s easier to come up with a solution. Following are some practical things to think about:
How much money is there?
Is there Long Term Care policy?
Does one need more care than the other?
Is it only one family member?
Do you need to be “medicaid ready”?
Are there other benefits for which your family member is eligible?
In the case of Mom and Dad we had a catastrophic event and we had to move them from their home to a totally new location (see my first article). This experience is how I know that asking your parents what they want done in their ‘final chapter’ is easier said than done. It’s an extremely difficult conversation and we tend to avoid it. DON’T! If you don’t think you’re capable of having this discussion, hire someone to assist – sometimes our loved ones hear bad news better from outsiders. If you’re emotionally wrung out because you’re in the middle of the “journey” — you are not alone.
Parenting Your Parents has mental health professionals who are skilled in family matters as well as move managers (a person who manages the entire move — from sitting with the person and deciding what to keep, to selling/giving away the surplus and hiring and managing the move) — all of whom assist in making any transition as easy as possible . . . and none are easy.