Monday, May 28, 2018

Here's What I Told My Dad When Mom Died

Her funeral was one week ago today ...

I'm still a little stunned; seems like it was yesterday; seems like a lifetime ago too. But it was one week ago: Monday, May 21.

As you know (unfortunately), you get that one word--gone-- and your world tilts and goes into a crazy spin. It's such a shock! So hard to wrap your mind around!

Mom passed away on Wed., May 16. (I hadn't expected her to make it through the month and I'm thankful I could spend May 1-4 with her in the cardiac unit of the hospital; it was a precious time). Once we got the news my husband Tom and I juggled our jobs, phone calls, plans and flights for the family. (We spread from the east coast to the west and our destination was Wisconsin). We flew up from South Carolina that Saturday, had visiting hours on Sunday, the funeral on Monday, Tom flew back (three flights/two layovers/takes all day) on Tuesday and I stayed with my dad until Saturday.

I wanted to do 3 things for him, and I think these would be good helps for anyone who comes alongside family or friends after a loved one dies.

1). Fend off and buffer conflict, " vultures," and nosy people who should mind their own business. Fortunately, my siblings and I agreed that Dad would call the shots and we'd do our best to help him do what he wanted to do. He and mom were married for 63 years but he's managed pretty well on his own while she was in the hospital since April 21. Of course we had our own opinions but our priority was to give him respect and enable his best interests. Above all we did not want to impose any more sudden, irrevocable changes on him like moving him out of his apartment or getting rid of all her photos and things. I cleared out stuff he didn't want and cleaned out some kitchen cabinets so he could begin to arrange it for his own use but it was only with his permission. He lost his wife, not his mind, you know?
"Vultures" are what I call the people (usually relatives) who want to swoop in on the family heirlooms or inheritance and gorge themselves.  Their hearts are as ugly as a vulture's head and I'm sure you know what I mean. So far we haven't had any of those and I'm grateful. Taxes are another "vulture" so estate protection and a good financial advisor are very important--especially when you don't have much!
Some nosy women sidled up to my sister, "So where's your father going to live now? Will he stay in that big apartment all by himself?" I'm glad they didn't happen to ask me as my sister was much kinder in her reply.

2). Talk about the 2 biggest challenges for widows and widowers: Loneliness and finances. A few days after the funeral his financial advisor had set up an appointment for him to clue him in to how he'd manage without mom's social security and pension checks. He also advised him to revise his will, meet with some people about all the medical bills, and create a new budget. Dad will also need to come up with some options for future housing given his age and future health needs. 
As far as the loneliness, that's something we'll all observe and monitor. He's active at church, VFW and in his residence so I hope the friendships he's built over the years will remain solid and mutual but time will tell. Re-marriage is not a guaranteed solution to loneliness and we talked about some of the widows and divorcees in the neighborhood who were already eyeing him!

3). Consider safety. My dad hates the telephone. He wears hearing aids and its frustrating to use the telephone so he's been avoiding it. We all told him he just has to suck it up and do it. But we gave him a handle on it--my brother helped him learn how to use the speaker phone feature on his house phone. And then I worked out a system with him to call my answering machine every morning and check in with me. If I don't hear from him I have the # of a neighbor of his who I can call to check on him. We don't want him to end up like those "Help! I've fallen and I can't get up!" commercials. This isn't a perfect solution but it's better than it was.
We also talked about keeping doors locked and got extra keys for us kids to have on hand.
Another issue with the phone was that he got a few phone calls for mom from telemarketers---or were they really telemarketers???? In any case he now knows to say, "She's not able to come to the phone right now may I take a message? or "Put us on your DO NOT CALL LIST." Never tell a stranger that your spouse just died. 

I hope you find these 3 things good reminders of steps that you've already addressed. Of course there are a lot of other things too and they vary from person to person, but at least these are starting points. I'd love to hear your advice and experiences so please leave a comment. If you receive this on your cell phone click on the title to get to the actual blog post to make a comment. Thanks! I know other readers will also appreciate hearing your views. 

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