Becoming the Oldest Living Generation

My father in law died yesterday.   His final days were surrounded by family, without pain, and guided by his wishes.   He spent 1 day in the ICU, 1 day in a hospital ward, and 1 day in hospice.   The journey from eating dinner with the family to death was 1 week.   His neuroendocrine pancreatic tumor was highly aggressive, and caused rapid weight loss, muscle wasting, and the inability to swallow without aspirating.    His path from life to death was just as I would want for my own - basic hydration, antibiotics for reversible infections, and a comfortable/caring environment with those closest to you standing by.

His death follows my father’s death a year and half ago.   That leaves only my mother as the living link to prior generations.   It means that I’m the oldest living male in the family.    In your 50’s it is common for you  to manage the declining health of parents.   It does feel early in life to become the oldest living generation.

Having worked with the transition of two fathers in two years, there is much I have learned about preparing for death

*Clearly document your wishes/preferences for physician orders for life sustaining treatment
*Ensure financial resources are well documented and understood by family members - bank accounts, retirement plans/pensions, and trusts
*If bills are unpaid, tax returns unsubmitted, or decisions unmade, ensure that a box of “to do” items is centralized.
*Making decisions about funeral arrangements is key
*Hospice is a good thing

My father and my father in law both benefited from caring/compassionate care in a hospice setting.    Hospice staff place the patient’s comfort first, reducing pain, alleviating anxiety, and providing a soothing environment.      We all die.   Spirituality aside, we’re a collection of biological systems that fail.   As walking fails, then eating fails, then thinking fails, vulnerability increases and control is lost.

A unified family, guided by the wishes of the patient and supported by a hospice setting brings a dignified, respectful death.  

All the emotion I expected was easier as the living members of the family gathered together for support.   Group hugs and gentle conversation helped calm the tears.

Over the next few weeks, there will be infinite details as accounts are closed, legal documents are executed, and the physical items associated with life are disbursed.   The death of a parent is never easy, but I am confident that the experience of my father’s death and the preparation for my father in law’s death will make the process as manageable as possible.

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