I wonder if this will be the last time. I wonder if this will be the last time I will see his face…the last time I will read his lips…the last time I will see him alive.
No, I’m not talking about my Marine. I’m talking about my dad.
As the only child of an ill and disabled father, I wonder these things all the time. So here I am in the Critical Care Unit with my father on his death bed again.
I say ‘again’ because I am fortunate enough to have a father who just loves to make a doctor eat their words. But now he’s on a ventilator. Now he can’t even speak.
Since I was old enough to comprehend, I knew that at some point in my life I would be taking care of my dad. Before I would even consider accepting my husband’s proposal of marriage, I made him understand that when, not if, the time came that I would be by my father’s side.
So why did I struggle with the decision to come ‘home?’ Shouldn’t that have been a given? Am I alone? Are there other Mil-People out there who are struggling with this?
I cannot be the only one who paces back and forth waiting for the doctor to phone me to say, “You’d better get here NOW”.
If I were closer, that call might be easier to make. If I were closer, that call might be easier to receive. It would, at minimum, be much easier to make the decision to just go-- but from 900 miles away? It’s not the same decision. Not even close.
What if I didn’t have the financial means to go? What if I didn’t have the support system of Mil-Friends to be on call for my husband and kids in my absence? What if my Marine was gone when I got that call? What if we were stationed on the other side of the planet?
As part of the military community, I knew that there had to be some kind of research available on this decision. I found a special edition medical publication called The Journal of Geriatric Care Management dedicated to the topics of care-giving for aging and disabled parents of military personnel and their spouses. (Read the study for yourself here.)
Here is what I learned from the article and also from this experience:
You are not alone. My guilt was replaced with validation when the article acknowledged that military families “typically have no choice about where they reside, and they are invariably stationed long distances from their home communities and extended families. In these circumstances, providing parents with regular daily assistance is impossible. Travel costs and available leave time necessitate careful planning in scheduling trips home”.
You have to have ‘The Conversation.’ We all want to think of our parents as these immortal beings that will forever be unbreakable, but there comes a time in every person’s life where conversation about last wishes must be had. My own avoidance of having ‘The Conversation’ led me to where I am now; scrambling to find a way to prepare legal and medical documents before it was too late.
The authors of the article suggest that “proactively addressing these tasks early rather than after a crisis, will not only benefit the parent, it…should help to minimize the stress associated with a parent’s healthcare emergency, and maximize the quality of care provided to an aging parent”.
Get to know the lingo. When my father’s health began to deteriorate more rapidly, I was bombarded with medical terms and acronyms that I didn’t understand. I learned the lingo of the military as a military spouse because those terms and acronyms applied to my life.
My father’s medical care is now a part of my life. It only makes sense to gain a working knowledge base of his medical care in order to get the job done. Bottom Line: your skills in this area are transferable and they will benefit your family in the long run.
You need to think ahead, WAY ahead. Who will be responsible for what, and when they will be responsible for it? This is where our Mil-Spouse skills fully come in to play. We seem to LOVE contingency plans. We have back-up plans for our back-up plans. We must prepare for the unexpected just as we do in our everyday military life.
Begin by discussing expectations with your service member. For example, will you be expected to care for an aging in-law should they not be able to live on their own anymore? Will you be moving ‘back home’ to take care of your aging or disabled parent?
Fair warning: Family drama frequently rears its ugly head in times of crisis. If you take a proactive approach, you may be able to keep that at a minimum by at least knowing each-others expectations.
No one ever wants to think about the “what if’s” when everything is going as planned, but that’s the point. Be proactive while everything is going as planned and those “what if’s” might be a whole lot more manageable than a “what now?"
MJ Boice currently resides with her active duty Marine in the beautiful low-country of SC, is the mother of two teenagers (please pray for her) and works as a Readiness & Deployment Support Trainer. Her passions include: writing, volunteering and serious coffee consumption; all of which contribute to her “90-Nothin’, Grip-It-And-Rip-It” mentality. As of May 2014, she will (finally!) be the proud owner of a B.S. in Social Psychology which will be used to serve the greater military community.