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3 Things To Do Today to Get Organized For Your Aging parents

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Aging parents getting organized

Raise your hand if you are navigating the tricky waters of aging parents. If you’re in midlife like me, it’s highly likely that the topic has taken up residence in your mind, either the back if the waters are currently calm or in the front if there has been a recent crisis or diagnosis.

The ending season of life is not the most popular topic, people tend to avoid it as a rule, but if you can push through the discomfort and have the courageous conversation when things are relatively stable, you will save both yourself and your parent(s) a lot of anxiety and hurt-feelings. 

There are three things you can do now to prepare yourself and your aging parents to navigate the challenges that come with their golden years. One of them you can do on your own, the others require collaboration which will feel uncomfortable at first, but can lead to valuable conversation and understanding.

Step One: Read Up

Books to read for those with aging parents

There are two books I recommend to get you in the right mindset to talk to your aging parents about their end of life goals. The first is Being Mortal by Atul Gwande. It helped me understand what it takes to live independently in old age. It covers how to have a conversation when you receive a scary diagnosis, offering key questions that can help both you and your parent not only at the time of diagnosis but also through the inevitable turns in the road that lay ahead. I didn’t know a thing about Palliative Care before reading this book. Now I’m better equipped to know when treatment is the best course and when it isn’t. Being Mortal is a quick and interesting read. It’s written by a physician but is easy to understand for those of us without an MD.

The second read is At Peace by Samuel Harrington. This book goes into detail about how to navigate the end of life (something ALL of us will experience!) Recognizing cues and signals  that will help you make care decisions at what is usually a stressful and confusing time. Our medical care system is not set up to facilitate a peaceful exit; this book gives advice on how to provide one anyway. It’s longer, with more medical speak than Being Mortal, but I found it equally helpful in educating me on a topic I knew next to nothing about.

Step Two: Get Organized

Get organized with a nokbox

There is a list of things you (and eventually your adult children!) will need to access at some point. It sounds simple but this is a HUGE deal. The hunting and gathering expedition that needs to happen if you don’t execute on this simple step is extremely time-consuming and stressful. Often grown children have to collect this information while dealing with anxiety and grief, which makes it even harder.  If you can do the gathering with your aging parents now, you can take at least one stressor out of that equation.

Above is a checklist of things you’ll need access to. I recommend using a password vault such as LASTPASS or 1Password. There are numerous planners out there to help you get organized; my number one pick is NokBox. Their base kit has everything you need to secure your life’s details so they are easy to access and navigate when you need them.

Sure you’ll have to work to gather all of this information, but better to do it now, when you are not pressed for time or dealing with big feelings.

Step Three: Have A Plan

One of the things to talk about with your aging parents is how they would like to handle their death. One or both parties usually feel the act of even bringing up the subject is superstitious somehow. Or worse, they feel like you are pushing them towards the end when they aren’t ready to go. I know it’s hard and your parents may not want to talk about it but broach the subject anyway. This is where both books I mentioned can be really helpful. Maybe it won’t fly the first time but persistence usually pays off. Once you are in the conversation it’s not ever as bad as you anticipated.

You’ll want to cover Advance Medical Directives, including whether they want a DNR. Your family may have a known funeral home that everyone uses, with burial plots picked out or cremation instructions verbalized. If that’s the case, great. If it isn’t, this is another good topic to cover. They may have strong opinions, they may not. In either case it’s wise to find out now while things are stable.

When you are grieving, decision fatigue can be overwhelming. It’s so much better to just follow the instructions you had prepared. 

If you’re still here thanks for braving a scary topic, you can do hard things! (And this one can really be up there on the list of hard things!) Start with the books – they’ll help you build the muscle and your future self will thank you!

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