It is time to tell the tale. I'm ready and I think the world deserves to hear it.
The snow was falling fast and furiously when my parents' email arrived from 1400 miles away. "Exit" was the subject line. It is not uncommon for parents to rail against old age homes and unnecessary medical care, but doing something about it is quite uncommon. Were they? Did "exit" mean what I thought it did?
My mother never thought they would get anywhere near old age but would meet their demise on one of their many wild adventures to every remote corner of the world. Once old age tamed their excursions, my father decided a bottle of scotch and a snowbank would do the trick. I used to chuckle. More recently I asked, "What if it is summer?"
My parents always said they wanted to live together in their big, old farm house until they could do so no longer, and then they didn't want to live. They made it abundantly clear they had no intentions of being hauled off somewhere or letting some caregiver invade their privacy. None of those sentiments prevented my siblings and me from worrying about what could happen. Despite being mentally sharp and managing day to day, the writing was on the wall. The likelihood of a fall or other debilitating change, which would end life as they knew it, was increasing dramatically. What would we or could we do to help that would not incur their wrath?
Those who knew my parents well were not surprised by their decision. It fit. Even the short and cryptic email message fit: "We are checking out." It reminded me of the "letters" my father sent me in college written on both sides of a prescription blank. And the way they went about it was equally perfect. The waste baskets had all been emptied. Every dish was clean and in its place. The newspaper had been stopped. The bills were paid ahead. The wills were right on top in the most likely drawer.
Before you assume they were just neat and tidy, let me tell you how I know they were only thinking of us. When my daughters were in middle school, my endlessly traveling parents took them exploring all over Greece, Italy, and Paris. When my niece graduated from high school, my parents funded her trip to Europe. The last checks they wrote were to the three younger granddaughters. Each memo line read "for foreign travel." They were thoughtful, generous, fair, and committed to their values right to the end.
I wish you had known my parents and felt how deeply consistent and, almost, predictable their actions. It is a story of love and integrity that holds lessons for all of us about values, authenticity, courage, devotion, and personal responsibility. I am sad for me, but happy they were so clear about what they wanted, able to make such a decision together, successful in execution, not tempted to wait one day too long, never separated, and never too far gone to live life as they wished it to be. Regardless of the choices any of us might make, I can only admire their clarity and constancy. Anything less would have been a painful disappointment even though I didn't know it until they checked out for the last time.
© 2013 Ann Latham. All Rights Reserved.