Helping you come to grips with grief

By  Ron Stang, Catholic Register Special
  • June 25, 2010
Now What? A Practical Guide to Dealing with Aging, Illness and DyingNow What? A Practical Guide to Dealing with Aging, Illness and Dying by Sherri Auger and Barbara Wickens (Novalis, 160 pages, softcover, $19.95).

Barbara Wickens and Sheri Auger say they wish they had a reference tool when they were facing their parents’ illnesses and deaths.

Me too.

Having gone through the late stages of a parent’s physical decline and death a few years ago, and currently in the midst of trying to determine future care for an elderly relative, I can say this book is just what is needed for family, even friends, of people going through the late stages of life right up to death, and then settling a host of post-death issues.

“This is not another book about grief,” the authors say. “It is a book about all the things you have to do while grieving.”

How true. Because the world doesn’t stop even though you may be going through a maelstrom of emotions as you care for a suffering relative or grieve a recent death. The authors even have a chapter called “The World Doesn’t Stop When Someone Dies” with personal experiences and advice for dealing with an often indifferent world, including representatives of commercial institutions demanding payment because a bill has lapsed.

The book is divided into two parts. The first looks at the “Big Picture,” the second “Taking Care of the Details.”

The first part addresses social and emotional issues around late stage care and death. When, for example, might you start thinking of assisted care for a parent (you notice changes such as forgetfulness or deviations from reliable behaviour such as mom leaving the stove on or dad having trouble judging distances while driving)? It discusses how to approach mom or dad to talk about the need for assisted living or even post-death matters such as funeral arrangements and where documents are stored.

There are some practical tips like keeping a medical journal to track a parent’s doctor visits and treatment options, or applying for Employment Insurance if you are taking compassionate leave to care for a loved one.

{sa 2896462171}The book is published by Novalis and has a Catholic theme. There is discussion, for example, about the Church’s position on organ donations (they’re allowed, with Catholic hospitals in Ontario using a benchmark of 10 minutes after the heart has stopped beating for removal) and cremations (which have been allowed since the 1960s), as well as a discussion on the sanctity of burial in a Catholic cemetery.

The second part gets into the nuts and bolts of often complicated issues like what a power of attorney and executor are and why they’re important, and types of wills. Among the types of will there are formal and holograph. The latter is written by hand and perfectly legal in most provinces. That includes the case of a Saskatchewan farmer, dying when trapped under field machinery and writing, “I leave all to my wife” on a rear fender.

Sometimes family law issues, such as support payments and property rights of a surviving spouse, can take precedence over what the will says.

The authors have a checklist for the types of often overlooked government and financial institutions to deal with when wrapping up estates, making sure you have death certificates (obtained from funeral homes) to send as you cancel various accounts from Canada Pension to credit cards.

Auger and Wickens provide some interesting financial tips. They suggest joint bank accounts when your loved one is alive so, upon death, the money is not part of the estate and subject to probate fees. The exception is Quebec, “which does not recognize right of survivorship.”

The book has a glossary of those often gloomy arcane words surrounding death, from “intestate” (when a person dies without a valid will) to “testator” (the individual in whose name and by whose request a will is created).

One thing I would have liked in the book is a few open, lined pages for the reader to write notes.

Death and dying are subjects few of us are good at, in part because we are rarely exposed to them.

This book helps clear the emotional, financial and legal hurdles, smoothing the pathway for often perplexed or emotionally wrought survivors of our aging and deceased loved ones.

(Stang is a freelance writer in Amherstburg, Ont.)

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