I dreamt about my mom the other night. That is worthy of comment because I rarely dream about her; which is something I’ve wondered about for a long time. Until the end of their lives I had always seemed to be closer with my mom than with my dad. But during the last …. perhaps … 15 years of my dad’s life he and I had a resurgence of intimacy and during the five years after mom’s passing when he was still alive he and I, and even he, Peggy and I did a lot together. So, we sort of made up for any lack of closeness during the earlier years. But I digress…
The dream featuring my mom was an ok dream but upon waking I got to thinking about the different ways that longevity plays into our relationships. Both of my parents were from families with 3 children in them. My dad lived to be 85, my mom passed in her late 70’s. My dad’s parents survived into their 70’s and my mom’s mother survived to 102. And where am I going with all of this?
My maternal grandmother survived her husband by nearly 50 years. She was a LONGTERM widow. Being an immigrant she had no parents to look after, and her siblings here in this country pre-deceased her by quite a few years.
My dad’s parents lived long enough that he was retired for a good 10-15 years and they were there to be taken care of during a good part of the that time. Mom & Dad moved his parents from Chicago to Milwaukee and they had an apartment in the 12 family building that we owned. Both had health issues, and both needed casual nursing — which mom & dad provided — themselves.
When my mom’s mom could no longer maintain her home she also move into the same building with us. She never needed “nursing” as the other grandparents did, she was an independent old gal and managed quite nicely. She even went through a hip replacement surgery in her mid 90’s! And she managed quite well gardening with a walker! But the upshot was that my mom was pretty close to her own death before HER mother ever passed.
In fact, the three daughters lived in close proximity to mom almost their entire lives. One moved away (to Florida) for about 5 years and moved back. Another moved to Oregon about 5 years before passing. And my mom lived within 15 miles of her mom all her life save 4 years when we had a hardware store in Algoma Wisconsin. They were a close knit family. Every holiday was spent together — for the most part harmoniously.
Dad’s family were mostly in Chicago but we made the trip quite regularly so he could see his brothers moreso than that the wives could meet or my cousins. The brothers were closer than the rest of the family.
And along came Peter. Only child. And if I’m honest I can’t say that I ever really missed having brothers or sisters. I was content as an only child. I’m told that I had an imaginary friend named “Slim” but I have no recollection of an imaginary friend. I was not a joiner at school; I was not into sports. I never had need of lot of people — the ones I had I was really close with and others never seemed to make it onto my radar.
So it is that different people; different generation; indeed, different cultures behave differently when it comes to end of life matters. My parents managed to have all of their parents near them, in their own property, as long as they survived. They did so at significant cost and inconvenience to themselves.
I was, we were, spared some of that. Peg’s mom died before her 50th birthday. But Peg spent a great deal of time with her in Toledo while I was working in Chicago from the time of her diagnosis until she passed. My mom also had a relatively short end-time. She’ been undergoing treatment but once she actually ASKED the doctor how long she had left she was gone in 1 week. She came home from that appointment, sat me down on the bed to tell me what she wanted for her funeral service and proceed with the dying. Dad had a history of heart surgery and return trips to the hospital but in the end he had taken the entire family to Wisconsin Dells for a getaway, we returned all happy and content, and he fell peacefully asleep and never awoke. And finally Peg’s dad went into the hospital for routine bypass surgery that went awry. 12 weeks later he finally left the hospital for hospice and he was gone not long thereafter. One of us stayed with him all that time and we were glad to be able to do so. We did what we had to do, when we had to do it.
Which brings us to ourselves. We’re both relatively young by current standards and we are the oldest surviving relatives. Even though we are currently 1500 miles from family we know that won’t be forever. The thoughts about how soon we’ll return north, and the mechanics of accomplishing that are on the drawing board. Still, it’s a different sort of world today. And we don’t expect our small family to care for us the way we did for our parents. Their world is very different than ours.
As a young guy I was impressed by my father in law who at about age 80 decided it was time for him to prepare for his own end. Over the next 5 years he trimmed down all his belongings to the bare minimum. By the time he was facing heart surgery it was as though he was prepared for any eventuality and when he passed we had relatively little to do to settle his estate.
My parents, on the other hand, were not thinking about passing. Because they had moved both sets of parents into the same building they had neglected to downsize much of anything. And when my mom passed dad was adamant about not disposing of her things — even clothing. He wasn’t morbid about anything, he just felt better with her stuff still there. He behaved as he always had, he traveled, he camped, he was active — he just didn’t want to get rid of the memories of her. So, when he passed we had literally three households worth of belongings to get rid of — and not long after that we downsized our own household to go RV’ing.
Each generation, each family, each culture handles end of life matters differently. There’s no “right” way, there’s no “wrong” way — we all end up doing what we need to do.
It’s funny that in my dream my mom was upset at me because I (personally) didn’t spend as much time with her as she wanted. That’s strange because I know what I did when she was alive and the dream had no basis in fact. And yet I dreamt it. Whether there is someone else I’m about to console at the end of their life I have no idea but all I know is that we do what we need to do at the time we need to do it.
I don’t think there’s any “point” behind this ramble…. It’s merely stream-of-consciousness. But it’s something for me to think about on a beautiful morning.