When I grew up, I knew my parents wanted to be cremated because they told me. I knew they didn’t want to be hooked onto machines to stay alive, as they phrased it, because they told me. I knew that my parents wanted their ashes scattered. My mom made it clear that they didn’t want to be in a cemetery because she didn’t ever want their to be any feeling of obligation to visit. Growing up, we never visited my grandparents’ graves, but Steve and our son and I have gone once and found my grandparents graves in California and my grandfather’s grave in New York.
My parents retired and moved to Arizona. After their move, my mom called to tell me that I wouldn’t want to hear it, but they had made their arrangements to be cremated when the time arrived and she would send me information about it. She was right that I didn’t want to hear about it. Even though I was in my 30’s at the time, I really wanted to put my fingers in my ears and not hear or talk about what my Mom was saying. Who wants to talk to anyone about death? Ick.
My mom also threatened me and let me know that she wanted no service, memorial, gathering or anything else. If I did have one, she would haunt me. This did not sound like it would be a good thing! I tried to reason with her, but she would have none of it.
My parents completed all that less than delightful paperwork and told us that they had DNRs and had completed paperwork so that they wouldn’t be artificially kept alive.
The time came that my mom was in the hospital and decisions had to be made. As hard as it was to make the right decision, we, my Dad, my two brothers and I all knew what Mom wanted. With the arrangements already made, there were no decisions to be made about “what to do with Mom.” Wow. I have to say that at that point I realized what a gift we had been given by my parents.
My dad and the box with my mom’s ashes moved to our house. The box stayed here in the closet when my dad got an apartment. When my dad went onto hospice, I was told we had to make my dad’s arrangements. They did not like my answer that the arrangements were already made since that mortuary was in Arizona, so I sat down with my dad, discussed what he wanted, and took care of the paperwork.
My dad became even more firm regarding how he wanted his life to end. “Don’t let this happen to me,” he had said when my mom was in the hospital. It was because he didn’t want to die in the hospital that he went onto hospice.
My dad passed away peacefully in his bed, and again I knew I had done just what my dad wanted. A simple phone call from hospice took care of the next step, and Steve and I went to the Neptune Society’s office to sign paperwork and take my mom’s ashes. We had been able to arrange to have both of my parent’s ashes sprinkled in the ocean together. Despite always having made their wishes clear, there was some resistance from one brother. We did compromise by purchasing a very small urn for him and having ashes from both parents placed into it.
Steve and I have tried to talk to his parents about this for years. I appealed to my father-in-law from a financial angle (it will be less expensive to make your arrangements in advance). I appealed to him from an emotional angle (Do you want your wife to be making these decisions in her darkest hour?). Steve took a tougher stance and threatened to bury them in the yard with the cats.
All these years there was no discussion with their three grown sons regarding life support, DNRs and final wishes.
My mother-in-law spent about ten weeks in the hospital before the respirator was finally turned off last week. It’s been awful for Steve, quite frankly, because he and his older brother felt their mother had passes away on Easter. However, since she’d never made her wishes known, they didn’t know if she really did want every possible thing done, and then some, which is what happened. The only comment she made was, “Make sure I’m dead” which one of the sons now thinks meant she had a premonition about what would happen.
The rosary and funeral will be this coming weekend. Unfortunately, because nothing was planned in advance, it has been much harder than it should be. No one knows what she wanted, no one knows what they should do when decisions need to be made. Family members are upset with each other instead of supporting each other in a difficult time.
When the dust settles, these hard discussions need to be held with Steve’s dad. I frankly do not think they will happen this time, either, but I hope people have learned from the experience they’ll just had.
For everyone reading this, make your wishes known. Tell your family, put it in writing, and make the arrangements so those you love don’t have to make the hard decisions without your support, when it is the last decision they want to make. Talk to your parents and find out from their wishes. Learn what not to do from my husband’s family. Learn what to do from mine. Let your children be the ones to say, “I knew what to do because they told me.” You’ll be giving a gift more valuable than you can ever imagine.