The Business of Dying

After 18 months of fighting colorectal cancer, my brother-in-law passed away peacefully with my sister at his side.

Leinenkugel's tour David and Diane 07052012

The plan that they agreed to when the time came, was that he would go onto hospice care and die at home.  Sometimes things don’t work out like planned.

The Business of Dying

In spite of having their business affairs in order including their will and associated items, my sister ran into problems.  She tried to cancel their account with the cable company.  She was paying for services that they were not using.  The cable account was in my brother-in-law’s name and, while she was an authorized user, she was not the owner and could not cancel the account.  After advising her that she was still obligated to pay the bills in his name because she was his spouse and locking her out of the account, she was told that they would gladly change the account to her name after he died and provided them with a death certificate.

Let’s just say that Comcast has lost a customer for life.

The Business of Dying

My brother-in-law’s cancer had spread to his liver, his lungs, and his brain.  His cognitive abilities became greatly impaired, and he developed a condition called agitated dementia.  In spite of three of us being there, we were unable to keep up with the demands for his care.  The hospice nurse recommended a trip to the hospital for symptom management.  He required one-on-one care almost to the end, and he passed away in the hospital.

A canopy of green

So, his care required a change in plans that they had not discussed because it was something that was unanticipated.  And this is after going through the same process with three parents going onto hospice over the last 5 years.

The Business of Dying

Other things that had been planned in advance included the funeral preparations with the mortuary and with their church.  But, there was still plenty to do when the time came.

Unexpected things happened.  If my brother-in-law had died at home, hospice would have taken care of everything like calling the mortuary.  Since he died in the hospital, my sister had to make the call.  And she had to answer a lot of questions that had already been answered.

And this was after answering a lot of questions that the hospital required that hospice had already recorded.

David's feet June 2010

The Business of Dying

My brother-in-law passed away a little after 9:00 in the evening.  By the time my sister got home around 11:00, the phone was ringing.  The university was calling about organ donation.  The hospital staff had prepared her for this, but assumed because of the cancer and treatments that he wouldn’t be able to donate anything.  He was able to donate his corneas.  The business of dying included answering about 45 minutes of questions similar to those with blood donation.

But, if you plan on donating organs, timing is crucial.

The Business of Dying

So, life since my brother-in-law has passed away has been a whirlwind.  In a few days, when everyone is gone, and she is back at home, life will return to a new normal for her.

I think this is why grief is sometimes delayed.  In spite of 18 months of planning and trying to make sure that all contingencies are covered, the business of dying required decisions and time that distracted from the immediate loss.

The Business of Dying

The business of dying will not end for her for a while.  She has to take care of life insurance and untangling all the things that are commingled when you are a couple.  She has to make decisions about her future.

We talked about the fact that we took care of so much in advance, but that there was still so much to take care of when the time came.

After going through this, I would recommend that everyone make plans for their deaths in advance.  And, by plans, I mean you should have a will or a trust even if you are young and especially if you have children or live in a blended family situation.

You should talk to your loved ones about what kind of services you would like.  My brother-in-law had picked out all of his readings and music for the church service.  But, he did not want to pick out his casket or talk to the funeral home.

You should talk to them about your wishes for end of life care.  Do Not Resuscitate – many people say that they want this, but it is quite a shock to actually see the DNR bracelet on your loved ones arm.

David 65 Birthday clouds bringing relief from the heat 07062012

I feel blessed to have gone on this journey with my sister and my brother-in-law.  His end-of-life journey, but also the one with my sister that included The Business of Dying.

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10 Responses to The Business of Dying

  1. Alicia says:

    I’m so sorry to hear of his passing, but think of the blessings he did have while here. How special to have family surround him. Thank you for being so open and honest during this time. I see my parents declining and have had some conversations with them about the future. Some items you have listed here give me a few more things to talk with them about. Many prayers and thoughts go to all of you not only now, but with the future too.

    • Mama says:

      I guess part of my point was that, no matter how much you plan and prepare, there is always something unexpected that happens. The last month was one of the hardest of my life and it wasn’t even my husband! I can only imagine my sister’s pain.


  2. kimv says:

    As a nurse, I have seen MANY times, that patients want a DNR and when they are unable to communicate this, the medical power of attorney instructs the staff to do everything. I would encourage people to pick out someone who is strong enough to make these difficult decisions. I have seen 93 y/o patients being ‘kept alive’ by a family member that do not want to let them go….regardless of what the patient wanted. The ethics committee in a hospital moves slowly, these situations are tragic for the patient. I have seen us do to a human for extended periods of time, that no one would do to their dying pets. DNR has many levels. Do you not want CPR but do want blood or medication to support blood pressure is ok? Do you want to be placed on a breathing machine, but no medicine? I could go on and on. It gets very complicated. Also, by federal law, EVERY patient that dies in a hospital is considered a donor and must be ruled out.

    The last thing I want to say, it is ok for a patient to die. Families, please do not keep them alive so you can say you did everything…………… is NOT about you. It is about letting someone pass with dignity, love, and understanding.

    • Mama says:

      I agree with everything you said! People are hesitant to have these conversations with their loved ones. We did so with our girls over Thanksgiving a few years ago. They didn’t want to have anything to do with it, but I think they are now glad that some of the most difficult decisions are made and known, and one of them is in charge. People should do it when they are healthy and before emotions take over.


  3. Hillary says:

    Food for thought! Sending prayers of peace love and comfort to you and your Sis.

  4. Mary says:

    Mama I am so sorry for your loss. Mostly for your sister. I lost my brother in law in December. I am trying my hardest to support my sister from far away. Everyday for our sisters are the first day without their loved ones. Some days are good a lot more are bad days. The littlest thing will spark a memory. I pray for all of your family.
    Well, written and KimV also well written.

  5. Kim G. says:

    You have a way with words my friend. So sorry for the loss.

  6. Jane Lohman says:

    Having gone through this a few times, I know that nothing ever goes as planned. But this is also what gives us the joy in life. What a mixed bag it all is! As always thanks for sharing this with all of us! It matters!!

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