Since I started writing and speaking about our American way of handling aging and death, a lot has changed. Just 9 years ago, no one thought much about preparing for the most important transition of all, the passing from this world into whatever the next one holds.
Despite the fact that we ALL experience the cessation of our life here in the corporeal, so many of us are fearful or shy about talking about it. Fear of being deemed morbid or macabre, having a death wish, or an unhappy relationship, we push the conversation and the topic away over and over.
But I see a new awareness dawning that families with 80 and 90 years olds are starting to have the talk and it’s easier. And once the mechanics and logistics are out of the way, the personal has space to come in. How do you want to handle your last days if you know they are upon you? If you die suddenly, what do you want your family to do? Plan a memorial, quietly handle the details? Who will manage your belongings? Who will take your pets? Who is most trusted to speak for you in your family? Does a friend know you better? Have you written any of this down? Do you have a trust? A will?
Planning while you are still mobile and very lucid is a marvelous idea. If you wait until a broken hip, fractured legs, head wound from a fall, or an illness make moving urgent, the move is far more complicated, expensive and less on your terms. If you are frail and elderly, likely one of your assertive children will suddenly decide they know best and you will lose you voice in the matter entirely. It will be done upon to you “for your own good” and with love most likely, but it will still be forced on you.
A transition now to a smaller home, to assisted living, to a home closer to your favorite sibling makes way more sense when you are active. But here is the hard part:
Right now you don’t feel old! You can still manage the house, pay your own bills, feed the dog, drive to the store, and visit friends. You have slowed down a little and are less likely to travel by air or take a cruise to an exotic location, but you feel not that much different from your 40s. The challenge is this process of aging lurches and then steadies and one never knows when the trigger event will happen. So in your late 70s and early 80s is the time to think about a single level level, grab bars for the shower or tub, curbless showers, sinks that turn off and on with foot pedal, levers and not door knobs, induction stove tops, and maybe some part-time help, which I like of think of as a butler! Many people resist “help” in their own home, but they watch hours of Downton Abbey where no one lifts a finger unaided by house help! If you think of this as a privilege of aging and not a pejorative it is actually quite nice to have someone bring in the mail, make coffee or tea, prepare breakfast, and tidy up! You can get used to it very easily.
Be sure you think this through for yourself then invite your kids into the conversation, or your siblings. If face to face is too much, send emails to them all at once. Get the ball rolling. Live this world as responsibly as you have conducted yourself in it. Be prepared.