I’d fully expected this Memorial Day weekend to be like most others, spent with extended family and friends at the annual cookout. I always look forward to the holidays. It is always spent with family. I’ve grown to love and appreciate how fortunate I am to have a family that I love and ample opportunities to remain connected. A smile spreads across my face when I think of my aunt’s macaroni and cheese that she always makes me believe that she’s made just for me. We were guaranteed to play dominoes, engage in conversation and assuredly some sort of game would be playing on the big screen television in the background. On the deck there would be several generations of family and friends enjoying the beautiful weather, admiring my aunt’s green thumb and basking in the calm of the day. That was not to be this year.
The day before our Memorial Day celebration my mother sent out what I thought would be a typical family group text reminding us of the next day and telling us how much she looked forward to spending that time together. However, that was not the text we all received that evening. Instead we all looked down to learn that her oldest brother, my uncle was admitted to the emergency room of his local hospital. Granted that it had been several weeks since I’d last seen him, but at that time there was certainly no inclination that he was sick. We’d all gone as a group to see a Rain Pryor performance and delighted in conversation going and coming from the event.
Life has a way of being quite ominous at times and this would be one of those moments. Being the youngest person in the vehicle at the time, I certainly could not relate to the eventual discussion regarding colonoscopies but I chimed in to mention that my “old man” (husband) had dutifully gotten his when he turned 50 last year. My mother reminded us that she too gets hers routinely because my remaining living grandmother also had had colon cancer. I remember my uncle sheepishly saying how he thought he’d had one at some point but hadn’t gotten one recently. My mom, as always tried to warn him that getting routine checkups were necessary. I suppose my uncle simply politely listened and dismissed the suggestion. After all, as we found out, he had no insurance and was doing what he felt was the most important, trying to eek out a paycheck-to-paycheck living.
Throughout the course of the last several days various family members tried to reach him but got no response. Soon there was worry. His voicemail box became full and no one had any idea what was going on. His middle child, now an adult and living on his own, was so worried that he drove the over hour and a half drive to visit him. What he found was his previously able-bodied father reduced to a literal shell of a man. He was frail and unable to speak. He rushed him to the hospital where he currently remains in the ICU. I visited him yesterday and was reminded of his father, my grandfather when he was at death’s door. He was incoherent, floating in and out of consciousness. Preliminary tests revealed a shadow on his liver and issues with his kidneys. And while we all await more conclusive answers as to what is truly going on with him, we were reminded that taking our health and its care for granted could find us in the very same place.
We’re always so busy, dismissive of what we consider a little pain here, a little pain there. Before we know it it’s been a few months and then years since our last annual checkup, we’ve allowed ourselves to believe that we’re supposed to simply push through the pain. We foolishly think, as my uncle made the mistake of doing, that a persistent flu lasting several weeks was somehow normal. He now lays in a hospital bed, with family by his side and everyone wondering the simple things like how to retrieve his employer’s information from his passcode protected phone to alert them of the situation. Yes, even those simple things that ordinarily no one thinks of.
I tend to be a rather meticulous person. Most things are documented and shared with my husband or other family members. But I admit that there are still some big holes in my planning in the event something happened to me and someone needs to take charge over my affairs. I still have no will, no advance directive, nothing that my loved ones would need in times such as those. I may only be 34 years old, but life doesn’t care how old or young you are. An emergency of catastrophic proportions can occur at any time. Are you and your loved ones ready for it? Have you taken the necessary steps to ensure that they’re not burdened by what they’ll be forced to handle for you and possibly without you?
Do you have your personal documentation in order? If you died today, what would your family do? There are resources out there to help you. Talk to your family and make sure that your documentation and wishes are known and in order. It’s never too early to take your life fully into your hands so that when life happens, you and your family are as prepared as they can be. The only thing your family should have to be concerned with is you – not your stuff.
This article appeared on page 5A in the 5/27/15 issue of The Union-Recorder.