As my mother-in-law says, getting old is not for sissies. But if you’re lucky enough to age with the support and love of family and community, it can be done with comfort and grace.
Jeff and I decided more than two years ago and seemingly on the spur of the moment (but with much talking and questioning for some months before hand) that we would move to Buffalo and be here for his parents. At the time, they were 90 years old and mostly healthy but still… they were 90 years old! It was time to get serious about end of life concerns. So we packed up and moved out and found ourselves here, Jeff’s hometown and my second favourite city in the U.S.
Once we caught our breath, we could see his father, in fact, was growing noticeably slower, aging quickly before us, showing signs of both physical and mental challenges. As the months went on, Jeff wound up doing more and more for them. Not leaving his sister and brother out of the picture, but they had (have!) lives that are more complicated than ours in many ways so it was simpler for Jeff to take on more of the little things that could be done.
Earlier this fall, after a difficult summer, and with his parents’ cautious agreement, Jeff moved in with them and was there 24/7 — except for Thursdays when brother Robin would stay for 24 hours. Being there, being available to support his mother and physically help his father with day-to-day needs was not just necessary for their being able to live at home, but for Dad to be able to die well.
When I would call, to see how things were going, or stop by for a game of cribbage and maybe supper, I would ask how things were, what were they doing with their time. Jeff’s first answer was always “We laugh!” Over meals, they would share memories of people and places from his parents’ childhood, from Jeff’s childhood, about the suburban neighbourhood they moved into as “pioneers”. They watched a few football games and a few hockey games, and Jeff suffered the Texas Rangers losing another run for the Series, and they listened to a lot of music.
With Jeff, with all my in-laws, it always comes back to music. On October 20th, the Amherst Symphony Orchestra opened their season by playing, amongst other pieces, the first movement of Robert Mols’ Symphony No. 1 Fortunately, with the support of family and friends, Dad was able to attend, to hear his son play his music, to hear the heart-felt welcome and appreciation the movement received from the orchestra and the audience. That evening created a memory we will all treasure forever.
From there, Dad’s decline speeded up a little more with every day, until there came the day when he went into hospice care. We cannot say enough about the concern and caring shown by everyone who is part of the Hospice Buffalo team. They made Dad as comfortable as they possibly could. Almost more importantly though, they made the family comfortable too, as comfortable as possible with the idea of having someone deeply loved, deeply admired, dying and moving on.
Dad slipped away in the middle of the night, quietly, peacefully. The way we should all die I think. Another member of the Greatest Generation gone, but his gifts of family and humour, of friends and responsibility, and especially of music, will linger for as long he is remembered by those who loved him.