The Responsible One
There’s one in almost every family: the child who ends up taking care of the aging parents. It’s not that the other siblings are irresponsible – far from it. It’s just that one kid just seems to take on the job by request, choice, or default.
In our family, I was The Responsible One, beginning when my parents talked about downsizing and moving into a retirement community. They were determined never to be a burden to their kids, so no one had to push them into making the move. My mom regularly told me about places they'd visited, and whether they'd made a deposit in order to get on the waiting list. Then they had a wake-up call in early 2001, when my dad lost his left leg below the knee because of an aneurism. Their three-level townhouse was no longer an ideal situation.
One fateful day, my parents invited me to join them for lunch in a New York-style deli near their home. As I devoured my Reuben and fries, they asked me whether I would be their executor. I still have the grease-stained paper placemat with my notes scrawled on it, detailing where I could find their will. (Foyer closet, locked black briefcase under hats & scarves, combination: 0000.) We survived lunch, so the need for me to be executor would be deferred indefinitely.
Truth is, I was flattered to have been asked and accepted on the spot. I wondered what made them choose me over my siblings – both several years older and one a lawyer, to boot. I figured the folks must think I would be good at handling funeral and executor issues. (I've always liked funereal stuff. Go figure.) Maybe it was my MBA, or the fact that I didn't have kids. Or maybe it was just that I was the youngest kid and had a fighting chance of outliving them.
At the time, I assumed this executor thing was just in case something unexpected should occur and the paperwork had to be dealt with afterward. I had no clue that this honor would entail years of work and worry beyond my wildest nightmares. Over time, my responsibilities expanded relentlessly, up to the very end. Most of them had nothing to do with the job of executor, and everything to do with being The Responsible One.
Through it all, my brother and sister were incredibly supportive and involved, so I was by no means alone with this responsibility. I’ve heard horror stories from people whose siblings disappeared when the going got tough, although they showed up promptly when the estate was being distributed. I was also very fortunate to have a husband who never questioned all the time, emotional exertion, and other resources that we invested in my mother’s last years.
Luckily, we had email to keep us all in touch, and our family had always used humor as a means of coping with reality. If you can find an excuse to laugh, you can survive anything, including death. (Well, maybe not your own.)
This journey was chockfull of eye-opening experiences – things I wish someone had told me about before they happened. The purpose of this book is to share these experiences with others who are on a similar path, or may soon be, or are hoping never to be. From the realities of my mother’s sudden widowhood to the bittersweet days of hospice care, you’ll find true stories and lessons learned from the rocky road of aging and eldercare.