A couple of weeks ago, I drove to work in the snow, with no snow tires.
I had the best intentions of having them installed before the first snow, but with each day that it didn’t snow, I somehow put off the decision until it was too late.
With the best intentions, we put off inevitable decisions that should be made until circumstances give us no choice, and like a car on summer tires sliding down a hill with zero traction, we careen into the next phase in crisis mode.
Aging brings changes, often dramatic and often with no warning. It also brings changes that are inevitable, creeping up slowly like the gray skies of early winter.
We talk loosely about what needs to be done today. We can do it soon.
There are plenty of examples in the area of elder care that fall under these fine line decisions: establishing or updating wills; creating power of attorney papers in the event of a loss of decision-making capability; getting finances cleaned up and in order; business arrangements for the self-employed; putting together end-of-life paperwork to avoid leaving decision-making to others; determining pet care where this applies; figuring out when and where a move to a more supportive environment might be needed or take place; determining how to provide support at home if there are no finances for an alternative setting or if the elderly refuse to leave their home; funeral arrangements.
Most of us will make many of these decisions when the fine line has been crossed. The day I drove to work in the snow was the day I called to get an appointment to have my tires swapped out, and that appointment was then a week away. I was lucky and the weather cooperated for that week, but luck is the worse thing to count on when real crises arrive.
Few of us who think we’ll be retiring on lottery money will find that was a good strategy later.
Having tried to initiate some conversations with my own parents a few years ago, I understand how complicated having such conversations can be.
There were few times when we were all together and ready to sit down and talk about all of the possible scenarios that might take place.
We tiptoed around the basics as a family, but I was lucky because, on their own, they had made certain decisions and commitments that they followed as things got tougher. Again, I say lucky because a lot of things could have gone sideways. They knew what they wanted, but I wasn’t as certain. Had they not been in the position to make their own decisions, I’m not sure I’d have known, clearly, what their wishes would have been for all of the scenarios that eventually arose.
My wife and I are in the process of setting out a lot of the legal foundations we want our own children to have when, either suddenly or inevitably, a significant change occurs that requires decision-making for us. Even though I am saying this, I must confess, there are some elements I have not fully taken care of, and I should. It seems skirting those fine lines remains more habitual than it should.
Graham Hookey writes about education, parenting and eldercare. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org