FIVE SURVIVAL TIPS IF ASSISTING A PARENT WITH THEIR END OF LIFE :: As an aging gay baby boomer and an only sibling, I was recently called upon to assist by beloved father with his end of life journey.
This may sound terribly morbid, but at ninety-two years old, my father was ready to call it quits and to experience what lies ahead after we leave our physical body. More than anything in the world, I wanted my dad to leave this life with the dignity and respect he deserved – not an easy task when assisted suicide is still not legal in Canada.
If you find yourself in a similar predicament or have aging parents who will need you when the time comes to end their life, here are five absolutely essential tips that will help you get through probably the most difficult task you will ever have to accomplish:
1- Make sure that your parent is transferred immediately to a palliative care facility or a hospice: With 21st century socialized medicine in Canada, hospitals are not equipped to provide the care, attention and sensitivity required during the end of life. Your first responsibility is to advocate on behalf of your mother or father to be transferred to a place where they can end their days on earth with dignity and privacy.
2- Pay attention to the language being used by the medical team: Since assisted suicide is still illegal in Canada, communicating with the medical team in charge of your parent will take on the form of decipher in some “secret medical code”. It’s essential that you pay attention because you will be required to make critical decisions on behalf of your father or mother. You will also have to translate the information to family members who might not share the same values about ending someone’s life when the time comes.
3- Keep the drama queens away: As I mentioned, not every member of your family will share your values when it comes to helping someone end their life. Assisted suicide brings up a lot of emotions for people which clouds clarity of thinking at a time when important decisions must be made. The process is difficult enough without having to be responsible for other people’s emotional meltdowns.
4- Make sure that your parents have “Living Wills”: This is probably the most important document you will refer to during the end of life journey. Without laws in place for assisted suicide in Canada, it is critical that aging parents have a living will dictating clearly their wishes when the time comes. There is so much stigma and judgement associated with what you are being asked to do that having a binding legal document is the only way to ensure that you are able to accomplish what is asked of you!
5- Funeral arrangements made sooner rather than later: It’s remarkable how many seniors have not made plans for their burial and how many people our age have not had a conversation about funeral arrangements with their parents. Discussing it with them and normalizing the process is essential to ensure that their wishes are carried out. Remember, once they are gone the grieving is left to the surviving relatives and they will have their own ideas on how to grieve their loss.
If you are not up to the task of assisting your parents during their end of life, then suggest to your aging parents that they appoint someone who is. The main thing is not to beat yourself up if you cannot go through with it – trusting your instincts, being honest with yourself and trusting someone else to provide end of life care for someone you love takes a great deal of courage.
Remember that ultimately we enter this world with assistance so having the same expectation about the end game is a perfectly natural thing.
– Sergio Martinez is a community activist, social justice advocate, traveler and multi media lover who resides in Toronto after spending twenty years living in Los Angeles. This post was first published by GGN June 6, 2015.