You are in the middle of your own story, but you can be the author and director.
This is an issue that most will have to grapple with at some point in their lives. It is not only aging parents, but extended family members and even close friends. Quite frequently, these situations bring out the best and the worst in people. This can result in complete family unity or relationship devastation. It has been such an issue over the last few years that many attorneys began specializing in an area known as elder law. This is nothing more than what used to be referred to as wills, trusts and estates. The reason this has occurred is because it branches into more areas than just making sure wills are proper and estates are correctly executed.
I was fortunate with my own father. Growing up he was very old-school and was not mean and harsh, but had high expectations of my work ethic. Of course, growing up he could say nothing right, but as I grew older, I frequently turned to him for advice. As most stories go, he provided me with some of the most simple and best advice that any man could ever provide. As he grew older, he looked to me for advice. At first, it took me by surprise, but he would frequently call about what to do. He trusted me so much that in later in years when my step-mother became ill, he insisted upon taking her to a hospital sixty miles away so they would be close to me and I could deal with the doctors. She recovered well and they returned home.
It was not much longer after that my father ended up in the hospital with an issue with his heart which in medical terms these days was not extremely serious as he needed a stint and they did the procedure. I received a call in the middle in the night to come to the hospital thinking my father was ill only to arrive to find him wearing his coat and tie hooked up to IVs and ready for me to take him home. All the while my step-mother was trying to get him to lie down on the bed. I found the doctors and had a discussion and came up with a plan. I took him home to let him recover for the next couple of days. He was fine and he was again able to return to his home.
My wife and I then started planning what stages we were going to have to be involved in with the first stage of them living with us. This had occurred in the fall and the next spring, I was in the middle of a heavy workload and coaching a 13 year old travel baseball team with a number of games. The evening before a double header, which happened to be games on fields 20 miles apart, I received a late night phone call from my step-mother. My father was packing his bags and he was coming to my house because of some silly words. I got my father on the phone and he listened. The situation was calmed down and he got ready for bed. Had it not been for the relationship that we had built over the years and his trust in me, I do not believe that this would have occurred. I called the next morning before I headed out and we laughed. Deep inside I knew the family’s history with his mother’s and sister’s dementia and his brother’s Alzheimer’s.
I knew the time for the transition was coming and on the baseball field, I talked with many of the parents of my players and we were all sharing our similar stories. All were in some stage of having to deal with their aging parents. After spending the day on the baseball field and completing the second game farther away, I received a phone call as soon as I walked in the door. That day my father had a good day and ended it with a trip to Hardee’s to get him a Dr. Pepper and onion rings. He came back and sat on the front porch and then decided to tackle a root by the sidewalk that was causing my step-mother to trip. After toiling and conquering this root, my father went inside to clean up and fell in the floor and died. I never thought of this as being sad because I knew where he was headed and I knew he went out with his boots on being 84 at the time.
I reflected back and realized I had learned much from my father and learned even more that weekend preparing for his funeral. I discovered that he was part of what is called the “Monroe Coffee Club” which is simply a group of older gentlemen that met every morning at the Hardee’s in Monroe, Georgia. They sit, drink coffee and share their stories. This all started all because Hardee’s would let the men buy a cup and get free refills when they came to the restaurant. It was such an event that the manager of the store even put on the placard inside a tribute called the “Monroe Coffee Club.” The stories these men shared and the respect they had for one another was incredible. These coffee clubs are in every town in this country and you might be able to catch a glimpse of these men from the greatest generation sitting around sharing their stories. They all contain collectively a wisdom that we can only hope that we can achieve.
I had my plan and I was fortunate that I did not have to execute the plan. Your story may yet to be written in dealing with your parents or you may be in the middle of that story.
There are five things you need to do in dealing with aging elders. [Click here.]
Stephen Fuller is the managing partner of Fuller Sloan LLC and has practiced in business litigation and consulting for 37 years and has over 25 years representation of the founder of one of the largest sit-down casual restaurants in America. For more information, send Mr. Fuller an email.