A parent’s responsibility never ends. Even though my daughter Jillian, 22, is off my payroll, living and working in Manhattan, I’m aware that she still has needs only a parent can meet. I’ve always wanted the best for my children and to never burden my two sons and two daughters.
I noted during a previous column that I take requests. A reader, who is caring for her 93-year-old mother, asked me to write about how parents could make their children’s lives easier by tying up loose ends during their final days on Earth.
I can relate since well before my parents passed away, they took care of everything prior to dying: the funeral arrangements, burial and every little detail. I never thought it would be helpful to have a cousin who is a mortician, but he helped a great deal. However, it was my parents’ selfless final act meeting with my cousin and covering all that was necessary, so all I had to do was show up at their funerals.
Aside from dealing with grief, my lone responsibility was eulogizing the two most loving parents imaginable.
My parents literally took care of me from my first day in the cradle until they were placed in their grave, which I discovered isn’t as commonplace as you would imagine.
What’s absurd is that it took years to fully appreciate my parents’ final act of love. Not only did my parents deal with a subject few like to think about, death and the impact on their loved ones, my mother and father also took it a few steps further.
My parents junked every bit of excess from their house during their twilight years. My father, who was the handiest person I ever met, could build a home and was an expert at plumbing, carpentry and electricity. But that didn’t mean my father had to maintain his home as his body was breaking down.
However, my octogenarian father made sure that there would be no issues with his home when he and my mother passed away. “When I’m dead and gone, I’m going to make certain that this house will be easy for you to unload,” my father said.
I didn’t think much of it even when I did sell their home. There were no issues with the family who purchased the house of my childhood. It was left in remarkable shape.
My son Milo occasionally labels me a spoiled only child. I always dispute that claim, but when I look back at what my parents provided, the expense of a private school education on a blue collar budget, unconditional support, endless love and a home that was set to sell when the time arrived for my parents to depart, maybe he’s not far from the truth.
I failed to realize what a gift prepping a home for sale was until recently. A few friends’ parents recently died, and each of their childhood homes had myriad issues. One pal also had to deal with funeral arrangements since his mother never tended to the matter.
Another friend who buried her mother discovered that she died in debt.
When our children are navigating through the obstacles of childhood and the maddening teen years, we constantly implore some of our kids to get their act together.
However, parents need to do the same as we age since leaving a considerable onus on our children should be avoided at all costs.
Having multiple children complicates matters. Since I’m sibling-less, there were no issues with household property. An acquaintance had so many issues about how to divide items and the house with his brothers and sisters that their home didn’t hit the market for five years.
Every parent, regardless of age, should have a will. According to Parents magazine, only 32% of Americans have a will. The most compelling reason to write a will is to establish who will be guardian of your children if the parents perish.
Quite a few families have lost both their mother and father during the pandemic. It’s not easy for some who would rather ignore the fact that they will not be here forever.
It’s also essential to have a will to deal with the financial side. A will is even more essential for divorced parents since a document will save considerable aggravation for the survivors.
After establishing a will and tending to financial matters, it’s never too early to rid your home of clutter. I can’t thank my parents enough for disposing of junk. One friend’s parents had a storage unit full of old clothing, furniture and, well, debris. It was a huge headache for him to clear out what his parents should have dealt with during their final years.
Get rid of nonessential items and find out what your children would like to keep. Maybe they won’t want those old Christmas decorations. A friend who was downsizing was surprised to discover that his kids had no interest in family photos.
Also, tell your children everything that they would ever like to know about you and your family. Since I came of age with parents who were considerably older when I was born, my dad was in his 40s and my mother in her late 30s, I was always cognizant that the grim reaper might take them early in my life.
I interviewed my parents during their latter years and asked my father what it was like serving in the Army during World War II, what I was like during my early years and about the 15 years of my parents’ marriage before I arrived.
After experiencing 23 and Me, I wish my parents were around so I could delve further into my ancestry, but I’m pleased that I decided to record some Q&A sessions with the two people who brought me into the world and raised me to be a confident, happy and well-adjusted child.
My parents looked out for me throughout my entire life and through their difficult final years. I intend to do the same for my children, who don’t need to deal with aggravation on top of heartbreak.
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