When it comes to our loved ones, sometimes it helps to have someone from outside the family offer an objective eye and an informed opinion about long range plans. Engaging in a thoughtful dialogue where your questions are answered and your concerns are addressed is smart preparation for what lies ahead. Because as we know, life changes inside a family can be profound, even for trained medical professionals.
Six years ago my siblings and I decided it was time for our parents to live closer to family. So at the ages of 80 and 84, my parents moved from Fort Wayne, Indiana, where I grew up, to Princeton, New Jersey, where I live now. I was relieved to know Mom and Dad were getting out of the house, eating good food and taking the right medications. They adopted a rescue dog, made friends, and I swear they got younger in front of my very eyes.
But the fairy tale that I had written for my parents could not last forever. A year after moving, my father was struck with a life-threatening case of shingles, and the new life they had invented came to a screeching halt.
In my family we have always had frank discussions about the quality and end of life and the right to own those decisions. So when I realized that my father was gravely ill, I sat at his bedside and told him I didn’t think he would live through the night without emergency care, but that the decision was his to make. He said with clarity, “I’m not ready to die.” In that moment, I went from daughter to caregiver — one of almost 44 million U.S. adults caring for an older friend or family member.