Debauchery, Denial, Theft.
Updated: Dec 20, 2019
The following is an event that is currently unfolding in the wake of a terminal diagnosis received by the grandfather of a close friend. It is a story that happens all too often and quite likely will happen to you soon, given that so few people are willing to have a serious talk. Death is a process that has many nuances due to the number of personal relationships involved. Many of these issues can be avoided or at least minimized by having a sit-down conversation with those closest to us.
So my friend's grandparents are in their eighties. Both of them had decent jobs that gave them the ability to live the retirement cliche in Florida for many years. Over the past few years, some family members have noticed changes in her grandmother's mental skills. Short term memory and even some more complex cognitive issues, like word usage, have been appearing sporadically. No one has been too concerned, though, as her grandfather has remained in excellent health. I met him once a few years back, and I would not have guessed that he was eighty. He has been very active and even goes to the gym quite regularly.
But now the twist. So grandma's mental abilities have been in decline for years, and grandpa is in great shape, until now. A few weeks ago, grandpa went to the doctor for some abdominal discomfort. It turns out he had two different problems hiding under the skin. Minor surgery eased his pain with one of his conditions; however, the second condition has no solution. He has an aggressive pancreatic cancer that is terminal.
So grandpa makes the humane decision at his age and opts for quality over quantity in living out his days. The prognosis with chemotherapy would only slow the cancer by a month or so. I applaud his choice as heroic. This unnatural postponement of death that the medical establishment has sold to the public is arrogant. Thankfully, more doctors are coming to grips with what is possible versus what is right for the patient. Cancer therapy, by its very nature, has a severely debilitating effect on the body during treatment. At eighty-plus years of age, no matter how good a shape you are in, cancer treatments will take a toll on the body.
To continue with the story. This couple has three children, none of whom are able, willing, or prepared to handle the fallout from grandpa's condition. One lives in the area and isn't interested in letting her father's failing health have any impact on her life. A second daughter lives more than 600 miles away and is burying her head in the sand. The only son lives more than 1000 miles away and has already engaged in activities that I would call criminal.
The first daughter is the youngest and has been going through a mid-life crisis of her own making for several years. She is well into her fifties and has been acting less mature than her children in their early twenties. A few indiscretions, subsequent divorce, and a now empty nest have placed her in a state where she is free to party at will. She, therefore, has no interest in seeing to the health and safety of anyone, especially her parents.
The second daughter does have considerably more distance between her life and her parents. This woman is in her sixties and retired a couple of years ago. Even though this would seem to give her more freedom, she adopted several children many years ago, and the youngest of those children have yet to get through middle school. Further complicating her relationship to the situation, is this woman's denial. She did visit her parents for a week shortly after hearing the diagnosis. However, she thought the visit was too disruptive, and she should allow her parents to return to their routine.
This level of denial is all too common, and not accepting that a new routine needs to be adopted will only complicate things when her father dies. The complication will affect not only her but also her mother. She will need to come to grips with a new reality of life after a long time spouse's death. One of the most significant differences between the Baby Boomers and their parents is the likelihood of divorce. The so-called Silent Generation, who were born before World War II, are far more likely to have remained with a partner "...until death do us part." This generation is likely to die of a broken heart after the death of a spouse at this age. Unfortunately, I fear that my friend's grandmother will likely fall to this condition. While this may sound insensitive, it is a reality that she will face after her grandmother loses her spouse of over sixty years.
Now to discuss the activities that I labeled as criminal in regards to the only son in this scenario. It would seem as though the two holes on the side of this "man's" head do not work. The first thing that he did after hearing of his father's condition was to drag a trailer over a thousand miles. Where? To his parent's home so that he could loot it. His father's most serious past time is woodworking. So he brought a trailer to haul off all the tools his father would no longer be needing. He wasn't interested in unique, or reliable old, just the most expensive tools that represented value. The father had not offered these items to his son. In fact, when the son was loading up one of the most massive tools, the father told his son that if he wanted that tool, he could give him four hundred dollars for it. The father is no condition to stop his son physically. Nor was he willing to call the police and have his son arrested, but he is quite upset by his son's behavior. The son didn't want his father's tools to use for himself; he has already sold many of them for hundreds of dollars.
Every single time I hear a story about someone helping themselves to something that belongs to someone who has a terminal condition, I am further disappointed by humanity. What would make anyone think that any part of that is appropriate? Your first reaction to a family member's terminal diagnosis is, what is in it for me? WTF? How is the grandmother going to live knowing this is how little regard her children have for their parents?
My contempt for this behavior was the inspiration for writing "Death and Taxes: Fallout from the Baby Boom." There are plenty of "experts" who will try to sell you end-of-life planning kits. They discuss wills, power-of-attorneys, etc. but no one is talking about any of the social challenges that make up the biggest challenge in seeing a loved one die. Most of the subjects I discuss in handling three generations of death, won't cost you a dime and could save you tens of thousands of dollars worth of mistakes. Additionally, they could spare everyone involved from a family discord that may well fracture a family.
The holiday season is the perfect opportunity to have a real family discussion. I urge you to take stock of what you have and discuss the implications of losing someone close. No one is going to live forever, go ahead and rip the bandaid off after things have quieted down for the evening. One REAL conversation now will spare everyone involved plenty of drama that only complicates the real issues we all face in knowing a loved one's days with us are ending.
Please let me know if this post gave you something to consider in the comments below. Good or bad let me know what you think, this is about starting a dialogue. If this post made you think about your own relationships or those of someone you know like and share it with them. If you are interested in other topics check out some of my previous posts and subscribe to get email notifications of new posts.