Too Soon?

A friend from the Midwest told me she started writing her mother’s obituary while her mother was near death and unconscious in the ICU. She crinkled her eyes a bit as she spoke, as if to say, “Was that wrong? Was I supposed to wait?”

But she knew she was speaking in a safe place, to a fellow Responsible One. To someone who understood her need to make the best possible use of time before a larger number of demands unfolded. To someone who could see that writing down the outline of her mother’s life was one way to begin processing her death.

She knew I wouldn’t judge.

And I didn’t. Because I did the same thing on my dad’s last day.

For those who haven’t been at a parent’s deathbed, the process is rarely like what you’ve seen on TV with final declarations followed by a dramatic flat line on the monitor.

For many, it goes something like this: a doctor tells you there’s only a day, maybe two, left. Or, the nursing home calls you because they’ve “seen that look before.” You stand by the bed and say your goodbyes and your thank yous, even though your mom is heavily dosed with painkillers or your dad seems to drift in and out of consciousness, as if he has one foot in this world and the other out the door.

And then, you wait. Many, many hours may pass before they take that final breath.

So what do you do?

You don’t want to leave. You can’t start making calls to family and friends, because what if he rallies? What if the nurse got “the look” thing all wrong? You can’t just pretend it’s a normal day and make phone calls or check email because this is so, so not normal.

At least two women in America decided to use that time to draft an obituary. But we can’t be alone.

I felt unsure about what I was doing at the time, just like my friend. What if I’m jinxing him? What if someone who’s not a Responsible One sees my notes and doesn’t understand?

I also knew that in my hometown, and in my dad’s circle, I needed to provide not only a complete obituary, but a damn good one. (No pressure!)

And I knew the clock would start ticking on a long list of tasks once he passed away: planning a funeral, finding the jazz band he wanted, contacting friends and relatives, finding guests a place to stay, and, yes, remembering that my last parent had just passed away, all before dealing with the estate. (I repeat, no pressure!)

If this was you on your parent’s last day, rest assured that your fellow Responsible Ones understand. You needed to do what you needed to do. We get it.

If you find yourself in this situation down the line, know that we’ve been there, too. You are not alone.

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