This last week has been filled with myriad and sundry conversations with friends, family, my husband and my children about the sudden loss of my dear mother-in-law. We've examined it and its unexpectedness from every angle, considered every clue, kicked ourselves for every missed opportunity and still she won't be coming back to us - no matter what we think we've sorted out. And, so now, without so much as postcard reminder, I find my husband and I have entered into the "sandwich generation". You've heard of it, surely - its in all the papers, all the magazines of our times - the generation raising children while beginning to deal with the elder care of parents. It's just that I thought I was a good ten, fifteen years away from it.
Sure, my parents have had a couple of things in the last few years - some minor - some not so - but while suffering through my own mid-life crisis, trying to deal with making something of my life before I die - I just had never considered my parents - or my husband's parents who are considerably older than mine - would actually die anytime soon. Sounds childish, I know, but - well, I just wasn't ready.
And, now I find myself wondering just exactly what my parents plans are. I'd never thought about asking - at least not so soon. And yet standing in a quiet corner of the funeral home watching old neighbors and friends file in to bid my mother-in-law farewell, I wondered what exactly my own mom - not one for too much pomp and circumstance and widowed by her second husband - has in mind for her own funeral? And, long before that - what is the exact state of her health and who exactly is she reporting to about all this? She tells me about her doctor visits but just last fall she went in for foot surgery telling only my nearby sister and brother about it. She'd told the other three of us about it three months earlier - but didn't want to "bother anybody" when the day actually came.
Then there's my dad and stepmom. My dad has had a few health scares in the last few years - a burst appendix he thought was the flu - thank god they got him to the hospital in time. And a mini stroke that now they are calling maybe not a stroke at all but left him toting a shoebox full of meds between my brother's home and mine when he came for a visit. Thankfully, he has fully recovered and is in much better health now - but what if? Sure, I'd thought about it then in that general sort of way that we all know death is coming - I just never thought about it as a reality. And, my stepmother, she's younger than him by eleven years, she waited to call us until he was out of the woods. I was a little upset about it then - because - well, he was fine. But what if? She just cannot do that - we all have to know. And we have to know early - so we can help with the health care choices that need to be made. That is the one thing my husband cannot get past - not insisting his mother get a second opinion. He did the legwork - sent her the info - made the calls - encouraged her to call. She chose not to and well, now that goes into the pile of questions we'll not have answered in this life.
And, how forward can I be with these people - my parents - who ran my life for years - whom I still find myself trying to please? Can I ask them, like I do my children, the very details of their bodily functions and reasonably expect an answer? But if I don't . . ?
Is there a manual somewhere they forgot to send me? Is there a guidebook on this subject or at least paperwork and maybe a training session? Is there some official notice that the IRS, for example, could send around giving you the heads up - a "just so you know" sort of note - "Your parents are going to need you in ways you never imagined." I can be the dutiful daughter - I just would have liked a little warning.