Recently, my mother-in-law passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly. None of us were prepared, least of all my mother-in-law. Despite our years of begging and pleading, it became very evident very quickly that Betty had not only not paid attention to our pleadings, but she had taken numerous actions that caused us both sadness and alarm. There were no funeral arrangements so we made and paid for them. There was no burial plot, so we bought the one next to their dad that was somehow still available. As my husband, his brother and my sister-in-law and I rifled through mounds of paper and clothes and threw away bottle after bottle of pills no one knew Betty was taking, it became evident that we were left with our worst nightmare – an unexpected death and a 52 year-old mentally handicapped brother who would now need our care. This situation was the one we had all avoided discussing, per Betty’s wishes, for almost twenty years. Now this brother was looking at us for answers and support and we were at a loss as to what to tell him. As we discovered there was no money, there was no way he could stay where he was, and that the youngest brother who lived close by could not take care of him, we all began to see that our lives would never be the same. We had no choice. We did what we had to do and we brought him home with us to face new clothes, a new house, a new town, a new woman in his life (me) and a completely different lifestyle from what he had known. I worry how much he understands and how much I can do to help, but I just hold firm to the fact that I have to take this day by day and not try to see too far into the future. I do know however, that this situation has taught and confirmed for me numerous things I believe.
I believe that parents should take care of their children whatever that means. There is no way a grieving child (no matter their age) should be forced to plan their parent’s funeral. I believe that it is our responsibility as humans to prepare for our death no matter how uncomfortable that makes us. If we don’t care enough about those we leave behind to do this, then why should they be expected to handle everything for us? That’s not the responsibility of a child; it is the responsibility of the parent. I believe that honesty is always the best policy when dealing with death and as much as we hate to talk about it, doing so will help us and those who we will leave behind to deal with the fact that as we all know death is inevitable. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away and I believe that confronting it and sharing the process before we go helps all involved to grieve naturally and as God intended rather than through gut wrenching experiences from which we never recover. I believe, that my children will thank me one day when I die and they discover (although they already know), that everything really is taken care of. The funeral is planned, the instructions are written down and the insurance policies are in a safe place where they can find them. My husband and I are already giving them material things we want them to have and allowing them to tell us things they want so that when that day comes, there are no guesses. I have also started throwing away the junk and the extra stuff that is just clogging up my life anyway, so that when the time comes they will be able to grieve together, and heal together because this, I believe, is the message of death, that life goes on and is for the living. That grieving has its place and then you move forward and that it is our responsibility to teach our children not only how to live, but also how to die, with dignity and grace.
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