What Happens When Your Parents Die?

My siblings and brother-in-laws know that when my father dies his tools will be passed along to me. There are some other items that are important to him and to me that will be passed down.

With some luck, good medical care and effort on his part that won’t happen for a long time but it might be sooner than we would like. Might be sooner than we think and that is why my father sat down with me to talk about what happens when he dies and what happens when mom dies.

It is not the easiest conversation to have. Are we ever ready to say goodbye to our parents? I am fortunate to not know the answer yet, but I have many friends who have already experienced the loss of one or both parents.

What Happens To My Children If I Die?

I have thought about that quite a bit and even got paid to blog about it but this conversation with my dad was harder than I would have expected it to be.

Maybe it is because his health isn’t what it could be and I have seen some big changes in him. Maybe it is because I know that he is just a man and not superman.

I learned that firsthand when he had a major heart attack and almost died. That was a big part of the early days of my blogging career. He obviously survived and here we are, almost ten years later.

But there are some scars/memories from those days. You don’t forget what it is like to see your father unconscious and breathing because a machine is making sure he does so.

You see things like that and wonder what would happen if the power went out.

I remember talking to him and telling him about the grandchildren. I remember holding his hand and then looking at it next to mine.

When I was a boy his hands were gigantic and then I blinked and learned our hands were the same size.

Beeps and whistles came from the machines and some sort of whirring noise accompanied his breathing but squeezing his hand did nothing, there was no squeeze in return.

An Important Conversation

It is an important conversation, this one he and I had. Mom and he purchased their plots many years ago. I know where they will be buried, but there are no caskets yet.

They are talking about buying them soon because they don’t want my siblings and I to have to pay for any part of a funeral. It is appreciated, their thinking and planning here.

But it feels a bit weird to think about it and to realize again that my generation has moved up a notch on the generation ladder. We don’t sit at the kids table any more, we are too big for that.

I look at him and I see two different men. There is my father now and the man I used to greet at the door when I was a little boy. One has a full head of hair, glasses and is younger than I am and the other is the guy he is now.

Bald and a bit more wrinkled but the same bright blue eyes. The same eyes that give off that icy glare when he is angry.

Lately the folks have been really making me crazy because some of what they do and say is stuff that I watched my grandparents do. I remember when my parents would sometimes complain about that and how one or both would say, “they are old.”

Well, my parents act like old people now. Not every time and not with everything, but they have their moments.

Role Modeling For The Future

It is not as uncommon as it once was for my contemporaries to have buried mom or dad. More than a just a few of my friends have lost a parent.

I have been to the funerals. I have sent the cards and done what I could to support them in their mourning.

What I do now will be seen by my children. They’ll see how I treat my parents and it will stick with them. It is a teaching moment that is important to me and not just because I want them to treat me well when I am old.

It is so very surreal to me. In a few moments I’ll go upstairs, grab dinner and then watch The Wolf Of Wall Street. I’ll look around the room at a big screen TV, satellite receiver and cordless phones and then think about our old Black and White television, rotary phones and the time before answering machines.

We are not at that place yet where we expect the end to come imminently. It would be a shock if it happened today, tomorrow or the immediate future, but we are closer to the end than the beginning so preparing for the future makes sense.

Feels very strange.

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  1. Rochelle January 24, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    Weird. That’s the only word for it. I went through it with my mom when I was nineteen and then my dad when I was 32.

    Nothing prepares you for it.

    So you just enjoy the time you have, I figure, because you realize how precious that time really is.

  2. Christina Gleason January 24, 2014 at 9:19 am

    This is something I’m trying desperately NOT to think about as my dad continues his fight with mantle cell lymphoma. But you’re right…we’re aging up now. It’s our parents who are getting old. I only have one of my grandparents left. I attended my best friend’s mom’s memorial service this past weekend. At 35, I don’t want to have to think about death like this, but you can’t escape it.

    • Jack January 24, 2014 at 10:20 pm

      Hi Christina,

      It is a rough road.My father had a major heart attack just before my 35th birthday and ended up on life support.

      We got very lucky and he made it, but it changed my perspective on many things and reminded me just how quickly life can turn.

      Ten years later I have been to more than a few funerals for my friends parents. It is surreal to think about the generational shift, but it is happening.

  3. Sweetie Berry January 24, 2014 at 8:26 am

    I just spent six weeks with my father as he died. He was meticulous in his plans and yet still, the things that mattered are not those plans. (though they were so very convenient when we had to process so much in such little time) The things I treasure are his stories, he wrote them, and he shared retelling them in the final weeks. I treasure that in many ways I do not have to guess what he wanted, desired and demanded at times 🙂 I remind friends gently that words won’t matter if its not on paper, families have different opinions about wishes and values. Ugly is the last thing any family needs after loss, so giving before death matters, sharing explicit plans on paper matter, handing to the person it’s important to if that is your wish while you can matters. We can’t take it with us anyway!
    Great story and thank you for writing it.

    • Jack January 24, 2014 at 10:28 pm

      Hi Sweetie,

      Very sorry for your loss. I can see the value in having written copy of our wishes. My sisters and I are all very tight but we have very different opinions and understanding about some things so I can see how easy it would be to disagree. That is not a good time for disagreement either.

  4. Robin January 19, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    My husband’s stepmother and father had this talk with us. When she died, his father remarried in 2 to 3 months. The talk we had then was much different. Now everything that once would have come to my husband and his sisters is going to the new wife and her children. We don’t know if he plans to be buried where he bought plots with his deceased wife, or if he has new plans to be buried with his current wife. It is awkward to talk about.

    I know my father’s and stepmother’s arrangements. We had this talk just this past fall.

    My mother and stepfather have never discussed final arrangements with us. Everything they told me that would be left to me was recently sold. Plots? I don’t think they have a plan yet.

    This is a very thought-provoking post. It is a bit unsettling to have to think about death – our parents; or preparing our own children for one day when it will be our generation that are old.

    • Jack January 20, 2014 at 5:18 pm

      Hi Robin,

      Oh my, it sounds like you really have had some “interesting” changes because of family life and dynamics. No disagreement about it being unsettling and a bit strange, can’t help but wonder about some of this.

  5. Vidya Sury January 19, 2014 at 6:32 am

    Feels downright strange, Josh. I remember, a decade ago, my Mom would joke about what I’d do with all the stuff she collected if she suddenly passed away. Four years ago, she did. It took me at least two years to let go of some things and give them away. It isn’t just strange, it is scary. I keep wondering what my folks – husband and son will do, if by chance, I am no more. They have no idea what’s in the house! And that is why I pledged to dispose/donate as many things as possible. Brrrr. It is cold in there!

    Somehow this post was wise and sad. Sigh!

    • Jack January 20, 2014 at 5:17 pm

      Hi Vidya,

      I haven’t experienced it yet but I can’t imagine it as being anything other than strange. It is kind of interesting to me to think about what my family would think if they went through my stuff. Are there secrets waiting to be discovered or would they look at everything and just think of it as being part of who I was.

      It is different for certain.

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