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Reflections On A Father’s Day Gift

Reflections. As Father’s Day approaches I recall an unusual celebration 20+ years ago. We were trying to decide whether to play cards or try out the new horseshoe set we had given dad. Instead, mom suggested we drive to the cemetery to see their headstone that had been recently added to their burial plot!

Taken aback, I asked about their health. My parents responded there were no problems, they were just planning for their later years.Both were oldest children of large farm families that had survived the Great Depression. They were planners and meticulous record-keepers. After retiring at age 70, my father devoted a lot of time to keeping up their home and acreage, managing their investments, gardening, and volunteering alongside my mother who was 7 years younger. My paternal grandfather lived to age 80 but my maternal grandmother was 95 at the time. I assured them that they’d be around for many more years. Chuckling, mom explained that one never knows what life will bring and they were just making plans to make it easier on myself and three sisters. They had witnessed disputes erupting among adult children.

So, off we went.

In the car, I learned that their attorney was drafting four legal documents. Each had a will, a durable power of attorney for healthcare decisions, one for financial decisions as well as a living trust for assets that were not held jointly. Further, I was told who the executors would be and where the documents were kept.

What a GIFT my parents had given my siblings and me, though I did not realize it until 22 years later.

A phone call sent me to my fathers’ bedside following a seizure. It unleashed a 10 month roller coaster ride of hospital stays, doctor and therapy appointments, and even simple home remodeling to accommodate in-home care. My orientation was on the job. I learned about HIPAA (health info privacy), Medicare, supplemental insurance coverage, DNR’s, what medications each parent took and for what condition, not to mention all the financial aspects of their lives.

It became evident that home-care was taking its toll on my mom. She had moved from companion and cook to assisting with bathing, dispensing medicine, doing all laundry, etc.

We quickly visited the residential options in town. Availability, cost, and the needs of two completely different individuals led us to choose a community with a nursing home for dad and an assisted living apartment for mom. They were still under the same roof and could visit anytime without having to get into a car.

Choosing a community in their hometown made it visits by nearby younger siblings and lifelong friends easy while keeping existing their medical and religious relationships. Those factors outweighed any travel inconvenience for my siblings and me.

Dad was heartbroken that he had to leave the farm of his birth and that he and mom would not be sharing the same room. While he missed his homestead, it was just a mile away, so he found reassurance in his weekly rides. I do wish he and my mom had moved to a senior community while they were both healthy so they could have enjoyed all the activities such places offer. Yet, four years after his death at age 94, I know his preparation for the future ensured he could afford his care and leave a legacy to his heirs.

My mom still lives in her assisted living apartment. She misses her life with my dad. Her offspring are grateful to the staff for their attentive care, and other residents who provide much needed socialization. We are approaching her 91st birthday. I’m still astounded by her recollections of life and what I still learn from her.

Vivian Helm

If you have questions about the forms mentioned in this blog feel free to call Greta Sullivan, Executive Director for Stillwater Senior Living (618) 692-2273.

You can also visit http://www.illinois.gov/aging/ProtectionAdvocacy/Pages/Legal-Assistance.aspx

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