In this season where the politically correct are whining about “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” I have not been able to weigh in on the ridiculousness of such idiocy. Just after Thanksgiving, my mother passed away after a three year battle with Ovarian Cancer. I learned a lot going through this experience, things I never planned on having to deal with. I also learned a lot about what is really important in life. So in this season when we assemble with family to celebrate Christmas and the holidays, I thought I would share some things to consider.
When we met with my mother’s attorney, she was telling us how busy she was during this season. “Visiting family members start to notice things might not be right with a loved one. They find the milk in the sock drawer and their parents’ underwear in the freezer. That can be a clue it may be time to get some things in order.”
My mother had arranged her financial affairs with a trust which, as it turns out, was brilliant. No one likes talking about these kinds of things, but since my father’s passing five years ago, I kept tabs on what my mom was investing in – where the bank accounts were, etc. She asked for my help and it proved invaluable. Most importantly, the trust allowed me to manage her assets without going through costly probate proceedings. It is important for anyone over 55 to talk to someone who specializes in retirement law just to make sure your loved ones are not unable to resolve your affairs immediately after your death. Take the time to prepare while you can.
I learned the importance of having a family member on things like telephones, utilities, car insurance, etc. My mom didn’t do this and we never thought about it until her passing. Just trying to shut off her high speed internet and cell phone service took over an hour and several visits with AT&T simply because my name was not on the account so technically, I couldn’t just shut it off. It makes perfect sense, but if my name had been on these kinds of accounts, the time and hassle I could have avoided would have been considerable. When you are with your family this holiday season, it is a good time to get things like this put into place.
One thing I learned is how important nurses and other professional caregivers are. Hospitals tend to be impersonal, but hospice is all about comfort and the patient. My daughter is a RN, but I did not fully appreciate it until I spent days at a time with nurses tending to my mother. Doctors are great – but nurses are divine angels who are tough as granite and compassionate beyond compare. I came to realize that my own job paled with what they deal with on a daily basis.
While these kinds of things were important, what I really learned was that the holidays are really about family. We all say it, but I got the rare chance to live it. When my mother was in hospice, we were with her the entire time. We didn’t spend a lot of time crying as much as we were telling great stories and getting to know each other. On Thanksgiving Eve, the entire family camped out in the room with her for the night. We were all there, all giving the love we felt for her. For Thanksgiving, we got Chinese food and ate in her room. We were laughing so much that the nurses came in and had to ask us to be quiet.
It was the worst and best Thanksgiving I have ever had. There was no television, no big meal, nobody upset over a football game or political discussion. It was just us being together with mom, staying positive and supporting her and each other. I can’t remember any other Thanksgiving in my life in detail, but I will ALWAYS remember this one. Our family came together as we never have before, and in many ways that was mom’s last gift to us all.
While I struggle to engage with Christmas this year – I find myself remembering those wonderful and warm conversations and sharing we all had together. That is what the holidays is about, not the food, not the gifts, not the decorations. I wish you all a warm and wonderful holiday with your loved ones.