Facing Your Parents Mortality

By: Mormon Heretic
January 20, 2014

not my dad, but this must be how he looked when he fell

My parents are in their mid-70s.  This past week, my mom called to tell me that my dad fell off his bike and broke his hip.  I became alarmed because, according to this article from the BBC, nearly 1 in 3 elderly patients die within 12 months of a hip fracture.  Another CNN article notes that men have an increased risk of dying from pneumonia or sepsis following a hip fracture.  Needless to say, it got me thinking about not having my parents anymore.

I was going to say that losing your parents is something everyone goes through; however, I have a brother and sister that  never experienced it.  My sister has already died of brain cancer, and my brother died in a car accident.  I remember asking my mom to compare losing a parent with losing a child.  She said that losing a child is worse because you expect to out live your parents, but not your kids.

When my brother died, we spoke to a grief counselor, and she said something that has always remained with me.  Many people say that they would hope to die in their sleep because they don’t want to suffer.  While that is understandable, the grief is much harder to deal with for those left behind. The counselor said that the family never feels they got to say goodbye.  She said it is better to have an extended illness, because it helps the family get used to the idea of death.

Having experienced both, the counselor was right.  I lost my oldest sister 16 years ago.  She had brain cancer for the last 22 months of her life, dying at the age of 36, and leaving behind a husband and 4 young children.  8 years ago, I lost my brother in a car accident.  He was 35, and also left a wife and 4 young children.  The loss of both siblings was profound, and probably took me at least 2 years to fully process.  When my sister died, she had been very sick for a long time.  I took her to radiation therapy every morning for 6 weeks, in hopes of shrinking the tumor.  It didn’t work, and eventually the radiation had damaged both her hearing and her eyesight.  She took steroids to keep the brain swelling down.  Long term use of steroids caused her weight to balloon, and she was in constant pain.  I wanted her to live, but I also didn’t want her to suffer anymore.  Throughout the ordeal, she maintained her faith in God, and I don’t know anyone that handled these challenges better than she did.  Towards the end, I prayed for God to take her suffering away.  I still miss her dearly, but I am glad she no longer suffers.  I was able to hold her hand the night before she died.  It is a bitter sweet memory.

I never got that chance with my brother.  A former co-worker of my brother said while  mourning the death of my brother,

“The thing about goodbyes is that they are rarely for keeps, and we never really know when we are saying goodbye for the last time.  We said goodbye to [him] back in January when he left to pursue other endeavors.  It didn’t feel like goodbye, not until last night.  Sometimes the goodbyes we mean to say just come too late.”

My goodbye consisted of spending a few moments with him in the mortuary.  He died instantly when the vehicle he was driving rolled, and crushed his head.  The mortician put a compression wrap on his face to keep the swelling down, and took it off for me to view him.  My brother looked pretty good for his condition.  However, his face swelled up for the funeral, (I didn’t know that happens after death), and most people didn’t recognize him and his swollen face (even his wife moaned “It’s not him!”)  I guess I got to see him at his best in the days that followed his death; I count that as a small blessing of my goodbye to him.

My brother’s wife and children were severely injured in the accident, so I was tasked to find a grave for my brother.  Because I had visited my sister’s grave many times, I wanted to find a spot near a tree.  (I wish my sister had a tree to shade her grave.)  My brother’s wife has remarked how nice it is to sit under the tree when they visit my brother’s grave.  I won’t need to find a grave for my parents.  Not only have they already picked a grave, they have a headstone.  Strangely, someone decorated it on Memorial Day last year.  I hope that wasn’t foreshadowing something.

Losing your parents is something most people will face.  I do not look forward to it, but the alternative (me dying first) is even less palatable.  When my dad dies, who am I supposed to call for advice on a plumbing problem, or why can’t I start my car when the battery is fully charged?  I used to call my sister for dating advice.  Perhaps she helped me find my wife, because I was married within about 2 years of her death.   I can’t call my brother any more to talk about the great game last night, but I do feel like he watches over me now.  I’d still prefer to call him on the phone, but I guess I must be optimistic that this is the best it will be.  I think about my brother and sister every day.  I do look forward to the resurrection so we can be reunited.

What are your thoughts?

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6 Responses to Facing Your Parents Mortality

  1. egee on January 20, 2014 at 6:16 AM

    All four of my grandparents lingered before dying (some longer than others). I was with my maternal grandmother when she passed away. She’d been diagnosed with inoperable cancer and was on morphine most of those last days for pain. It made her incoherent and delusional. The last few days of her life she was in a coma. When she finally died, my grandfather broke down and cried and didn’t really stop grieving until his own death a few months later. He’d had a stroke a year earlier and was completely paralyzed on the left side of his body. Even though it happened nearly twenty years ago, I still tear up thinking about how their lives ended. I wish it could have been more peaceful even if their family would have had to suffer a bit more.

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  2. Howard on January 20, 2014 at 7:54 AM

    Grieving is mostly about ourselves not about the person who passed or or our relationship with them. The sadness of missing them IS about our relationship with them, it is the authentic part of grieving. If we are healthy we tend to become better at grieving with experience because we tend to work through some of our own baggage by grieving. It isn’t easy, I’m the last one alive from what was once a large and lively extended family, today they are all a generation or more younger than me and sometimes it’ hard to imagine they are all gone.

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  3. Jon on January 20, 2014 at 2:08 PM

    I felt great sadness reading your post. I am so sorry for your loss. No words of wisdom or personal story here.

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  4. Mormon Heretic on January 20, 2014 at 9:47 PM

    I went to visit dad this weekend, and he is up and walking with a walker now. I asked him how long he was going to need it. With impatience, he wanted to know why I wanted to know. I responded that I was trying to show a little concern. Sheepishly he thanked me, and at the same time said he was very uncomfortable being the focus of sympathy. I read this post to him, and he thought it was very kind. We talked a little about his dad, who died in 1981, and even remarked about how similar my dad looked to my grandpa now.

    I don’t know how many of you have seen the movie “Waking Ned Devine.” It’s an Irish film available on Netflix, and very funny. I highly recommend it. It’s a comedy about a small Irish town in which an old man wins the lottery. He was so excited, that he had a heart attack and died. The townspeople decide to impersonate him and keep the money. It’s really quite funny, but at the end is a very touching part. Just as one of the townspeople gets up to give the eulogy of Ned Devine, a person from the lottery commission comes in. The person impersonating Ned Devine was Mike O’Sullivan, so the eulogy ends up being about Mike, who is seated on the front row.

    Michael O’Sullivan is my greatest friend. But I don’t ever remember telling him that. The words that are spoken at a funeral, are spoken too late for the man that is dead. What a wonderful thing it would be to visit your own funeral. To sit at the front and hear what was said, maybe to say a few things yourself. Michael and I grew old together. But at times, when we laughed, we grew younger. If he was here now, if he could hear what I say, I’d congratulate him on being a great man, and thank him for being a friend.

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  5. Hedgehog on January 21, 2014 at 1:44 AM

    So sorry, MH.

    My parents are in their 60s, but this a subject that resonates with me as it is looking like my Dad is developing a progressive debilitating disease that in the majority of cases will reduce life expectancy and significantly affect quality of life as it progresses. Really we’re just waiting formal diagnosis, but everything else would appear to have been ruled out.

    My husband is also concerned about his parents, who are approaching their 80s and live so far away, on the other side of the planet. As the eldest son, culturally the responsibility for them falls on him, and he visits annually, and emails regularly.

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  6. Jeff Spector on January 21, 2014 at 7:00 AM

    Wow, what a powerful post. It is something that almost all of us can relate to at some level. Death is a fact we all understand in concept but in reality, It almost always surprises us and affects us. I can’t imagine what it is like to lose a sibling. I am so sorry.

    I lost my first grandparent when I was 13 and it seemed a bit surreal to me then. I lost my Dad when I was 43 and while he deteriorated in a short one month period, that pain and somewhat disbelief stayed for more than 5 years afterward. Probably because we lived apart in different cities. So now, I have no more parents or in-laws. The older I get, the more I miss them, but the closer it is until the time that I will see them again.

    I am grateful for the Gospel which teaches us about the Plan of Salvation and life eternal. Having come from a “when you’re dead, you’re dead philosophy.

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