A Beautiful Farewell

walkingcaissonThe funeral went off beautifully. There were lots of possible last-minute issues but the icy roads, rain and cool temperatures failed to impede us. Wonderfully, the rain stopped so we could walk behind my Dad’s caisson to his gravesite.

My Dad requested a “life celebration” and I worked to imagine I was witnessing one of the many military ceremonies held in his honor that I attended over my Dad’s career — which helped me be proud instead of sad. The picture I included was taken by my nephew as we walked to the burial site.

Telling my Mom that we would have half the burial service inside the chapel if it was cold outside was acceptable to her. My brother brought her to the service and we worked to keep things simple and calm. We were expecting more than 100 guests and had asked that the medical team at Assisted Living provide her with something that would help her experience the day but minimize her anxiety. Unfortunately, she knew there was an extra pill in her cup, and refused to take it.

As we are sitting in the pew and she takes in the flowers and photograph of my Dad, she turns to me and says “I can’t understand why I can’t stop crying. I don’t want to cry in front of all these people.” My brother had the pill she refused to take in his pocket. I suggested that she take it because it would help her enjoy the day and minimize the tears. She told me to go get that pill. She was able to take it before the ceremony started and immediately seemed to gather her strength.

My Mom did brilliantly. She was able to speak to most of the guests and managed through the entire reception. We had moments when she would ask where Dad was, but those that attended and surrounded us only responded with loving smiles on their faces. Celebrated. 

Dad wrote “No Funeral” – Why is there a Funeral?

caissonAt T minus 40 hours to my Dad’s 20-minute funeral service, my Mom’s calls regarding the service begin. Currently, my Mom has two personality modes — the Lion or the Lamb. The Lion is in an uproar.

In the last month of his life, my Dad wrote down on a scrap of paper “No Funeral”. A decade prior, he had updated his documented burial wishes, which was such a gift to us. These were the plans he wrote before he got dementia, and were consistent with what my parent’s had been telling me since my early 20s. I know it seems odd that we had that conversation, but at the time, both my parents were traveling around the globe as part of my father’s job. Before every trip they reminded me where they stored their “written wishes” if something should happen.

Back in October 2012 my Mom talked me through their written burial wishes. My Mom wondered who was going to help her when my father passed away. I asked her why she always started this discussion assuming my Dad was going first. He was sitting in the room with us and was the one to reply “The men die two to three years before the women do.”  Back then, their plans remain unchanged from our previous discussions.

After my parent’s moved into Assisted Living in February 2013, my Mom started to bring up the conversation that they were not interested in having funerals any longer. I supposed it was because they had grown so isolated, they didn’t have many friends left and maybe thought no one would attend their funeral – but that is purely my conjecture. I still try to apply logic to dementia — it is a constant battle I fight and never serves me well. It’s such an easy trap to fall into.

My Dad is being buried with full military honors tomorrow. The service has a caisson with military band and the common practice is to walk with the caisson to the grave site while the band plays. It’s January and the remnants of the polar vortex promise to make a chilly burial.

On each call, my Mom is very angry. She doesn’t understand why we aren’t just going to the “burial site.”  I explained to her that Dad wrote his wishes and that Arlington National Cemetery has them. Logically, I understand her need to manage and bury her husband based on his wishes. However, given the dementia, as their children, we had a brief conversation and decided we should follow the wishes they laid out before the dementia. The problem is, we need to navigate through this with my Mom who doesn’t recognize her dementia and can still manage to engage in a verbal disagreement (she’s a little too good at it now).

My Mom brought this up constantly right after my father’s death but it stopped. It resurfaced a few weeks ago and has now erupted. She tells me that she is getting calls and doesn’t like people telling her there is a “funeral”. I realize that the many friends and family coming to town have no idea about my Mom’s dementia or how to really engage her now. They are wonderful to call but the conversations are setting my Mom off.

My Mom doesn’t understand that the caisson needs a place to pick up the casket and traditionally, the family walks with the caisson and marching band. After going through it once, I tell my Mom that the burial service will start in the chapel and end at the burial site. Due to the cold weather, we are doing some of it indoors so we don’t have to stand in the cold during the entire burial service. She liked that answer. Finessed. 

Please know that some of this is very uncomfortable for me to share with you, however, I wanted to be as open and honest about what we are facing in hopes that it helps you deal with your situation. This is a tough road to navigate. We continue to use the moral compass our parents provided us with to make the best decisions we can while still being mindful of our parent’s wishes. 

For specific suggestions on how to manage a difficult conversation with someone who has dementia, check out Three Go-To Tactics for Dealing with Someone who has Dementia.