By Terra Mullins, Health Alliance
With May being the month for Mother’s Day, it brings so many memories, and I think enough time has gone by that I can share a little about our experience now. Along with celebrating those still with us, it reminds us of those who are no longer with us and how we can continue to honor them and their memories.
My mother-in-law passed away on March 24, 2016, and we miss her. She pops up in our day in different ways. Smells, songs, movies, memories, foods. The flood of tears comes now and then, oftentimes when least expected. We think that is her reminding us to find joy in each moment. She was always good at that. She was the spark and light of my husband’s family, my “milly” (mother-in-law), and she was always a happy, funny (and at times, sarcastic) lady. She had beautiful eyes. The kind that smile at you when you look into them. Those are the best kind of eyes.
We miss her dearly. She got sick, and it was cancer. We were lucky, and the initial prognosis of six months to live turned into almost four years that we got with her.
My husband and I then embarked on the caregiver and advocate journey. Sometimes when things are new, they can feel like a maze, but in fact, if you partner with the right people, there are so many support systems out there to help you.
I am blessed to work for Health Alliance and knew the team to ask to find out what resources were available to her. The community outreach team and care coordination team helped point us in the right direction. Sometimes, just having someone to talk with to know where to go is the starting point.
Your doctor’s office, health plan, and social workers can help you find resources when you need them. Health Alliance collaborates with many community resources to help you know where to turn and to share resources, like the United Way 2-1-1 or something similar depending on the area of need.
Now, back to what I was sharing about my mother-in-law. When we learned her time with us was nearing the end and our glimmer of hope for a cure changed to trying to create peace for her final days, we shifted the focus to doing things that kept her smiling as long as we could. We didn’t want to focus on the end being an end, but instead focused on what she wanted and what made her at peace with what was going on.
We started to talk about the food people serve at funerals. She was a foodie, so it was important to make sure the food would be what she wanted. While she was talking about it, she decided all the food sounded too good, so instead of planning a funeral, we decided to plan a “Wakey Wake!”
It was a celebration, sort of a wake while being awake. To us, it was our chance to say goodbye while she was with us instead of after she passed away. It was intimate, special, and exactly what she wanted. It left us all with a memory of her that was bright and cheery. People shared so many sweet words with her, and it lifted her up. We had it in late January, and she passed away in late March.
We didn’t have a full-fledged plan made in advance, but we moved quickly to make sure things were taken care of in a way that respected her wishes. It’s important to take that step so that you can be in the moment when the time comes, and it doesn’t have to be a dreadful thing. Think about it like writing a story and figuring out how you want it to end.
That reminds me of my grandmother, who had a different plan. She was such a spunky, strong woman. She was a leader in her small town and an advocate of many things. She had her end-of-life arrangements all planned out with every detail outlined in her spiral notebook.
To some of our family, it seemed overwhelming to think about, but I tell you that there were no family fights, no arguments, and nothing to take the focus away from where it needed to be during a time of transition.
She had it all spelled out, all the way down to who was going to say what at the funeral, what songs she wanted played, and who the pallbearers would be. It was a true blessing to have that to reference and to know it was what she wanted. No guesses, no guilt, no asking ourselves if we are doing it right. It very much eased the stress that could come along with someone passing away.
It makes you really think about having that out of the way, already figured out so you can be present in each moment, celebrate each part of life, and choose what makes you happy at each phase.
Every phase is different for different people. If things change with your health and you would rather have a “Wakey Wake” instead of a funeral, then do it. If you would like your ashes to be in a tree urn so you can grow into a tree (that’s what I want), then do it.
I cannot thank a dear family friend enough for something she said to us at just the right time during our grief process. She taught us that there are no rights, no wrongs, and no sorrys in living and dying.
Pause and say that to yourself for a minute. Did you feel that? It takes so much pressure out of the grieving process. It’s OK to make decisions in the best interest of the living and the deceased in that moment. Do you have good intentions? Yes. Does it harm anyone? No. Then it’s OK. It’s also OK to talk about your wishes (and to get it documented somewhere).
Make sure you complete your Planning Ahead booklet from Health Alliance or refer to Five Wishes. You can also get similar copies from your doctor’s office, Health Alliance, your attorney or estate planner, and other community resources. The main point is to make sure you write down what you want to see happen if something happens.
Terra Mullins manages the community outreach team at Health Alliance. She is a wife and mother and has two really cute Mal-Shi pups! She loves nature and learning new things.