By: Anika Repole Wilson (Originally Published by: Laptops & Lattes)
There are many hard truths that one must face as we get older. Apart from the vanity of our own aging and emerging grey hair – we come to realise our own mortality and then if not before, that of our parents. It either happens in small glances over time when you realise their back may not be as straight, their walk a little slower, their hair a little greyer, their arms and hands a little weaker. Other times, this may hit you like a ton of bricks when one day you see your parent as no longer the invincible person they used to be, but someone you now feel the need to protect and care for instead of the other way around.
Other times, illness is the heralding factor. Illnesses like Cancer and degenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis or Alzhiemers can make your once indomitable parent weak and vulnerable. The saving grace of an illness like this, though difficult to deal with is that you are able to hopefully grow accustomed to the concept of losing them, as you lose pieces of them daily in relation to the progression of their illness. This, depending on the individual and one’s coping mechanisms, can be easier than dealing with sudden or tragic death. However regardless of cause, there is still nothing that can prepare you to lose your parent.
HOW CAN YOU HAVE IT ALL if you are lacking a parent or both parents? How do you tell your children that Grandma or Grandpa is gone? How do you fathom having your own child without your own mother’s presence to guide you? Growing up, my greatest fear was to lose both my parents. So said so done, I have lost both on the cusp of my thirties. My father struggled with Parkinson’s Disease for about 15 years, I saw him change from being the strong, amazing man I knew as a child, to someone I didn’t really know. My father passed away on November 1, 2011. During the later years of his illness, my mother was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer, and beating the odds and all doctors’ expectations she fought valiantly for 3 years but lost her battle on January 17, 2013.
Understandably, this is all still fresh and to be honest with you dear reader, I’m uncertain how to cope or if I can cope - but I know this – that I WILL cope! I’m a strong believer that nothing happens without reason; I have been a witness to this all my life. I suppose that is one major factor that influences my outlook on life and death. My background in psychology is also a big saving grace, the fact that I can
almost predict my behaviour and the emotions I am yet to face. My spiritual practices and beliefs though unconventional have also offered great consolation to me as I do not believe I have truly lost them, I do not believe in death – merely a transition. But that’s me – what about you? Least you understand now where I’m coming from and that you know I have the best intentions of being able to help someone else while simultaneously helping myself. As such, this article will not cover everything – it can’t! I’m still learning to cope.
When I was seventeen, I came across a book by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross; ‘On Death and Dying’ this book, little did I know would offer an immensity of knowledge and provide me with far more info than any well-meaning relative’s advice could have offered me even now. Kubler-Ross was a Swiss American Psychiatrist, who during her work with terminally ill patients discovered and later hypothesised that persons go through ‘stages’ of grief when facing their own mortality or that of a loved one. It is important to note that these so-called stages do not follow a specific order and can be collectively experienced at different times. They are as follows:
Stage 1: Denial
- Denial is a defence mechanism. This is denoted as a general disbelief and lack of acceptance of the reality of the situation. A person will often time find ways to avoid the truth of the matter. For me right now as I go through the motions of planning my mother’s funeral, sometimes I make myself believe she’s gone on a trip to explain her absence. My denial however is short-lived – I feel I have passed this stage but intentionally revisit it once in a while.
Stage 2: Anger
- This is a completely natural response! You will look for someone to blame. It is important for persons close to you to understand this stage, just as much as it is important that you understand that they are innocent and be mindful of things you may say. My anger has been all over the place, from the bad-driving taxis on the road, the person who serves my food with less gravy than I would like, the chair which leapt out at me for me to buck my toe on, my poor husband who only means well, my Mom’s oncologist who told us my Mom will no longer receive chemo treatment….. the list goes on. Understand this is normal and it will pass.
Stage 3: Bargaining
- I am speaking mostly of my mother as this is very recent, for my Dad I had about 15 years to try and process his loss. My mom’s 3 year battle and her ability to seemingly always beat the odds gave me some time to adjust – but it is never enough. During the bargaining stage a person may plead with God and even Doctors for more time. They may also bargain that they will lead a better life, give up a bad habit or change themselves so that they can have more time with their loved one.
My experience with this stage involved my bargaining chip becoming smaller and smaller as the reality set in. First it was that I wanted my mother and father to be around for my children (whenever they would be born). Then it became that I want my mother to hold my child, then let me be able to tell her I was pregnant, then when time started to run out and I realised God had other plans it became; let me at least get her home from the hospital, let her hold on to see my brother from overseas. The Jamaican saying; “When man a plan, God a flatten” has never hit home so true, as none of my plans/bargains came to fruition.
- Once again loved ones need to understand this ‘stage’. This stage is actually a good sign and means that you are finally getting to understand the reality of your loss. You NEED to grieve, you NEED to cry, you NEED to tell people to screw off so you can be alone. Let the pain wash over you and allow yourself that time to go through the motions and face life without your Mom and/ or Dad. To an extent, I’m a methodical planner and let’s just say that I’m grateful my employers have given me some time off as I’m ‘scheduling’ this stage for after the funeral. This I know well considering what I went through with my Dad.
Stage 5: Acceptance
- Acceptance is the long-awaited sigh of relief. This can happen weeks, months or years later. Or can happen in stages as well. You are able to start planning without that person in your life. The pain of loss is a far more distant memory than the happy times you had with your loved one. Look forward to this time, but understand that you will never forget your Mom and/or Dad. For me I know I take them with me daily and I feel their presence all the time, from the songs that play on the radio at the perfect moment, to distinct whiffs of their natural perfume in the air and the time I spend with them in my dreams.
Everyone has their own method to cope with loss. The preceding stages of grief are only a guide to help you know what to expect and how you could possibly help another by simply understanding what they are going through. There is another 7 stage grief model, but this one is my personal preference, but you can do your own research on that if you wish.
As I explore my emotions, I can promise you that I will be documenting them to offer others some insight to help through this process when the time comes. However here are a few things to make note of and make things less stressful so that you are able to deal with your emotions rather than vulture-winged relatives and disgruntled government workers.
Things to do – BEFORE!
1) Ask questions and discuss the hard facts:
This is a tough one and involves you asking your parent some hard questions related to their savings and investments. This also requires you asking them if they have any insurance policies or fixed deposits set aside for burial expenses. Funeral expenses can be pretty high. Understanding the costs related to a funeral ahead of time will be a difficult task to undertake, but this will make the process A LOT easier to manage when the time comes.
Know your parent’s wishes:
Do your parents have a preference for cremation or burial? Where would they like to be laid to rest? Have they purchased burial plots already? TRUST ME on this – persons who may have never really been involved in your parent’s life before will come out of the woodwork to involve themselves in the decision making process. To avoid this heartache or you lightly slapping the relative with a chair – simply ask your parent to write down their wishes in as much detail as possible, date and sign it and keep it in a safe place (that is easy to find at a later time).
Get into their business:
Be delicate when doing this! Try and find out what loans/mortgages, if any that your parents may have. Find out if the loans are insured, which means that in the case of their death, the loan is written off and paid virtually. Do your parents own property? (This includes cars) When asking these questions be careful not to upset them. However they too should understand that in the event of their death, things should be made as easy as possible for you, their child. If it hasn’t been done already, encourage your parent to seek counsel with an attorney and have an official Will written. When this is done, find out who the executors of your parent’s estate are, for no other reason than you simply need to know.
Now this is the hardest part. While your parents are healthy, ensure that they have Power of Attorney documentation ready. In the event that they are incapable of making logical/rational decisions, this document gives a person whom they trust full or partial entitlement to conduct transactions on their behalf (including legal & financial). This is particularly helpful if your parent is at risk for developing illnesses like Alzheimer’s and even Parkinson’s Disease. Your parent should also have a Living Will written. A Living Will speaks directly to life prolonging medical treatments / interventions, examples life support or resuscitation methods.
Know the process (applies to Jamaica):
If your parent passes away at home or outside of a hospital you must call the police and a doctor to the location. Both must verify in writing (on different forms – these maybe redeemed at a later date) that the cause of death was not ‘questionable’. Know next that you need to call a funeral home, find a company that comes highly recommended. These men will come to the location and ‘receive’ your loved one. Here is the HARD part – make sure you are not alone! One piece of advice here is calmly and politely introduce yourself to these men, shake their hand, tell them how wonderful your loved one was and ask them to treat them as though they were their own Mom or Dad – this makes it easier I’ve done this each time and it works! If your loved one passes away at a hospital you still need to call the funeral home of YOUR choice NOT the hospital’s.
After all of this is done, and you receive the Medical Certificate of Death from the doctor or hospital (make LOTS of copies – persons may need them for time off from work, insurance companies etc) you take this document to the Registrar General’s Department (RGD) and here you pay a small fee ($200JA) and register the death. You will get a receipt and the dreaded ‘pink paper’ this paper is called the Burial Order (COPY THESE TOO) you carry the ‘pink paper’ to the funeral home and keep the receipt. One part of the ‘pink paper’ will be retained by the funeral home, the other will need to be signed by the officiating pastor/reverend at the funeral – this part is then carried back to the RGD. During this visit to the RGD or your initial visit, you can then pay for and request copies of the Death Certificate. I recommend at least 5 copies as various organizations require original copies.
So how can you have it all, without your parents? Truthfully I don’t know, and honestly I don’t think it matters. Having ‘IT’ All is based on perception and one must realise that the ‘IT’ varies from person to person and ‘IT’ is much more of a journey than a destination. Discovering the meaning of IT, the appreciation of IT and learning to love IT is a constant duty of oneself in merely being human and becoming IT – your authentic actualised self.
Please comment about the process of registration of death on your island so that we can make a conclusive post specific to this for everyone.
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