Does Helping Parents Age Well Include Helping Them Die Well?

I think so–at least to the best of our ability

Another dear friend and member of “The Greatest Generation” died this weekend at age 97 (yes, he was in WWII).

He was athletic: swam regularly–pool in winter, Adirondack’s lake in summer; played golf year ’round until he was 95. He was musically talented–a member of Jazz at Noon in NYC, he played guitar on Fridays for decades, then became their vocalist until about a year ago. He grew tomatoes and dahlias, and gathered enough fallen apples from the golf course’s trees to make gallons of applesauce. That’s a partial list.

My first thought when hearing he died was that he loved life. But I quickly realized I had it wrong–he loved living.

His wife, D, was a colleague when I began counseling at the high school. We have remained friends ever since. I was their youngest son’s counselor during his high school years. There are 7 additional adult children from the couple’s first marriages (over 50 years ago).

All adult children (one lives relatively near) and grandchildren, with and without spouses, visited on a regular basis throughout the years. As their father’s/grandfather’s aging problems set in, the woman–who was really a cleaning woman but gave extra hours when help was needed–was replaced by 1 then 2 male caregivers.  They were the best. Their strength alone led to more exercise and other pluses which I’ve written about in past posts.

Care-givers’ gender never entered my mind until Dad’s insistence.  Then I became a convert, thinking aging men should have a choice of male or female caregivers as long as they’re able to give that input.

My now-departed friend had the best ending to life the family could provide: remaining at home, attentive caring-givers, and loving family. If we’re lucky enough to have a large family and a relatively healthy, well-organized spouse as in this case, we can make it happen.

What we can’t control is the medical aspect–the pain, the shutting down–which makes me think: Hospice. Their people, in my experience, lift the burden from caregivers’ and adult children’s shoulders, keeping patients nearing the end of life comfortable–in a competent, compassionate way. They also handle many medical aspects (which can be frustrating and difficult) among other things. I owe them gratitude–never forgotten–when I think of Dad’s final days.

Helping parents age well is a mindset operating over years. Does it include the last days and minutes of our parents’ lives? Do we age from the time we are born until we die? Is dying the final phase of aging? This may be a stretch–but if  the answer is “yes,” then we–probably with some help like Hospice if parents are at home–can help parents age well until the very end.

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