Papers, folders, and a day planner are haphazardly stacked. A gust of air blows off several papers and post-it notes, and it seems like the whole stack could topple over.

Dementia: The Best Laid Plans

To say that my dad was a planner would be...well, a lie. A planner he was not. This could be both a blessing or a curse depending on the day or the situation. He could build literally anything spur of the moment. He had an intuition about architectural and mechanical things. He didn’t always go about things the “right way,” but generally, he could tackle whatever was in front of him with whatever he had on hand, and make it work.

Dad was independent, headstrong, and stubborn

That being said, he didn’t plan for the next day a lot of the time, much less the future. I don’t think he considered his own mortality very much at all. Why would he? He was very independent, headstrong, and stubborn. If it was broken, he fixed it. If he needed it, he found a way to get it. He was resourceful like that. He was strong and smart, and there wasn’t much of anyone who could tell Daddy what to do or when to do it. There was nothing he couldn’t handle.

"Bounce back and keep going" was Dad's philosophy

That stubborn streak lead him to say things like he would never go to a nursing home. He never planned to get any kind of illness or physical or mental disability he couldn’t bounce back from. He seemed indestructible. He was of the “shake it off, rub a little dirt on it, and keep going” philosophy. He did just that until he couldn’t any longer.

Even after having open-heart surgery, he bounced right back. After he had his first major stroke, he had deficits but still ran around our small farm on the four wheeler and learned to compensate for his lack of mathematical sense when building his newest projects. If he couldn’t make sense of numbers in measurements, he lined up boards and cut them at the same length. His tenacity was still intact.

Planning for tomorrow...

He never expected his strength and wit to fail him, but, eventually, both dissipated. He never expected to walk with a walker or to struggle while recalling names or forming sentences, but it happened. He never expected to go to a nursing home, but it became necessary. He never planned on dying, but he did.

To say he didn’t plan at all wouldn’t be the entire truth. He made a few short-sighted attempts. He gave my sister a little money to put in her safe. It wasn’t a fraction of his final expenses, but it helped a little. He arranged where he wanted to be buried with the keeper of our family cemetery. The rest was left up to us to figure out. After selling a property he had and moving some things around, we figured it out. We broke pretty close to even with nothing left to spare. I guess, ultimately that’s what he planned on. He planned on his kids to figure it out when he couldn’t. And, we did. He may have had more faith in our ability than we had in ourselves at the time.

Getting our affairs in order

I don’t really hold it against him, but this is a cautionary tale. We couldn’t and wouldn’t have wanted to break his immortal spirit if we tried. Everything I mentioned is a guide of what not to do as far as planning goes, though.

Here’s what you need to do, or your stubborn parent needs to do if they can be so swayed:

  • Get your finances in order
  • Transfer assets to family members years ahead of time
  • Get a power of attorney in place
  • Keep an updated last will and testament
  • Get a plan down on paper
  • Get long term care insurance
  • Get life insurance
  • Plan the funeral or memorial service. Pick the songs.

A little discomfort spread out is better than all at once

Do the leg work. Deal with all the unpleasantries well before the day comes. It will be so much harder than anyone can ever explain. Save yourself a little time and grief. You’ll need every bit of strength you can muster when you lose a parent.

Daddy taught us by example to fly by the seat of our pants and knew we wouldn’t fail him. However, metaphorical life jackets could have saved us a lot of treading in rough waters. This isn’t easy stuff to deal with or even think about, but a little discomfort spread out over time in small increments beats it all falling down at once.

Believe me. I know.

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