“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “to speak of many things.”

Lewis Carroll, December 1871

 
When people ask us why we are extending our house, we usually say, “For more room, of course!”, indicating the two terrors chasing one another through the lounge room. Children require lots of space, don’t they? Actually, I really wanted more rooms to clean, because I haven’t got enough to do…
 
In truth, we haven’t extended the house for our children. Nor have we done it for ourselves, directly. We made a decision to pave the way for our parents to come and live with us when they can no longer care for themselves. When we worked on the plans for the bathroom, we made it accessible for a wheelchair. When we put the kitchen and living area downstairs, we made sure the ‘spare bedroom’ was right nearby, so we could keep a close eye on its future occupants.
 
The problem is, we are not actually sure that this is what our parents want to do. We have made quite a few assumptions, and one of them is that they would prefer to spend their dependent years with us. A recent conversation with my father made our preemptive strike fall a bit short of the mark, and this is why…
 
At the tender age of 62, my father brought his ageing in-laws out from Fiji, because the care at the nursing home where they lived was so appalling. Dad and his wife had to remortgage their house and business to pay for their airfare, medical treatment and the many hospital visits required to manage Nani’s broken hip and pressure sores. They built a unit underneath their house to care for them, and for nearly 10 years, they managed a 7-day-a-week business, brought up my teenaged sister and looked after their parents.

My family are extremely hard-working at the best of times, but this period of their lives was undoubtedly the most difficult. I lived abroad for all of this, so I didn’t see first-hand the struggles they endured. Second-hand was bad enough.

So when I flippantly mentioned to Dad that his new digs were nearly ready, he was quite shocked at our plans to whisk him away to live with us, if and when the time came. He was adamant that we would not be caring for him in our home, that they had ‘places’ for situations like that, and he expected us to put him in one. Upon further discussion, he was clear that he did not want our children to stop their lives in any way to care for their grandfather. They were young and had rights to their youth, and shouldn’t be burdened with such great responsibility.

I disagreed with him on all counts, and will probably fight tooth and nail for the right to care for my parents over a stranger in a nursing home. But is it really my right to do this? Will it be more distressing for them to live with us, worrying that they are ‘holding us back’? Or will my guilt and worry be enough trump their wishes?

The answer, I believe is this: It is time for ‘the chat’. While my elders are still able to make decisions about their lives, and their futures, we all need to sit down together as a family, and discuss what they would like to do, and what they would like us to do. Time to put emotions aside and talk turkey. Because communication now is the only way forward.

We have to mention death. We have to discuss disability. We have to talk about finances. With no hidden agendas- just so everyone knows what to do when the time comes.

I understand that not all families will just come over for Sunday Roast and want to talk about cremation or burial. It’s really, really hard to come clean about our fears and concerns, for both generations, and all parties need to be prepared for this discussion in advance.

I can only imagine how tough it would be as the parent, faced with your children wanting to discuss your demise…

Mother: “Darling, I have decided that I don’t want to be buried. I want to be cremated. And that’s final.”
Daughter: “Don’t worry Mum, we’ve all discussed it, and have decided that we aren’t going to bury you… or cremate you.”
Mother: “Oh really? What else is there left to do? Tip me overboard?”
Daughter: “Nope, we’re going to have you stuffed, and bring you out at Christmas and on birthdays, so you can stay with us forever, just like Grandad’s dog…”

True story…

In the meantime, start thinking about it, will you? Because those times are drawing nearer for all of us, and forewarned is always forearmed.

And you never know- they might want you to stuff them!