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Posted December 9, 2010

Book: Now What? A Practical Guide to Dealing with Aging, Illness and Dying
Authors: Sherri Auger & Barbara Wickens
Novalis, Toronto, Canada. 2010. Pp. 240

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Countless delicate decisions — both big and small — are made in the days, weeks and months before and after a loved one’s death. Now What? Is an excellent resource that can help you find your way through this tumultuous time.

Sherri Auger and Barbara Wickens offer advice in a friendly, heart-to-heart manner that takes into account the importance of faith. Factual material is presented in easy-to-read short passages so you can find the information you need and grasp the essential quickly. You will discover how and why grief often interferes with the ability to make decisions, learn how to make the best decisions you can, and find concrete examples of working through the steps involved in supporting a loved one who is seriously ill or wrapping up an estate.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Deciding to Live under One Roof

Because she believed it was the right thing to do, Sarah wanted her mother to come with her family when her mom was unable to manage on her own. Sarah’s husband, Zac, reluctantly agreed. He came from a big family, but Sarah was an only child. He knew his mother-in-law, Florence, didn’t have many other options.

When Florence moved in, Sarah was sure that everyone would get along. Within a few weeks of the move, however, she remembered just how controlling and manipulative her mother could be. Florence soon dominated the house and all the decisions made within its walls, right down to forbidding the children from playing their video games when she was around. The kids retreated to their bedrooms because, as they said, “Grandma is so mean.”

Seeing the toll all this was taking on Sarah, Zac suggested that the two of them go away for a vacation. He arranged for his sister to take the kids while they were gone. But Florence flat out refused to go into respite care for a few weeks. Nor would she even discuss having anyone come to stay in the house to care for her. Although she had appeared to have all her faculties when she moved in, it became increasingly clear that Florence had dementia. A specialist confirmed the diagnosis, b ut his did little to ally Zac’s growing dissatisfaction with his home life. He coped by staying longer and longer at work each day. That left Sarah alone to wrestle with a slew of emotions. She was frustrated and angry with her mother for being so impossible. She was in despair over the state of her marriage. But most of all, she felt guilty. Guilty about having Florence live with them in the first place. And then guilty about harbouring such heartless emotions about her mother. The poor woman was sick, after all, and hardly responsible for her behavior. Somehow things just did not work out as Sarah had hoped.

Having a parent move in can be a noble, unselfish and heartfelt gesture. But as Sarah’s story illustrates, it is a big step that requires forethought, open dialogue and ground rules before proceeding. Too often, the thought process goes someting like this, “Dad’s apartment is not convenient for us to get to from work or home. Besides, neither the dwelling nor Dad himself is in very good shape. I’d sleep better at night if I weren’t worrying he’ll fall and no one will know he’s hurt himself. Hey, I know! Dad can come live with us! We have lots of space.”

. . . Guilt: the gift that keeps on giving

First of all, why do you want your parents to move in? In many cultures, there is an unspoken assumption that aging parents will automatically live with their children and grandchildren. But cultures can clash if your parents were born here. The key question to ask yourself about having three generations under one roof is this: Will it strengthen your family relationships or weaken them? Yes, you must consider your parents, but not over and above your spouse or your children.

In other cases, adult children may feel they need to repay all their parents did for them growing up. This feeling may stem from positive emotions such as love and gratitude. But it can arise from negative emotions, such as feeling that they are being selfish if they do not “return the favor.” In fact, they may feel enormous guilt if they decide not to have their parents live with them. But is guilt avoidance really a good enough reason for such a major undertaking? There may be lots of difficult days ahead, especially if there are medical crises, and positive motives are much more likely to sustain you through such times.

Second, is having your parents live with you really what’s best for them? You may think your mom’s apartment is dingy or not in the nicest part of town. But try to see things through your parent’s eyes. Where they are living is home to them and probably has been for a long time. They know the neighbors and the neighbors know them and keep an eye out for them. They also know the neighborhood, bot the good and not so good, which provides them with a sense of control and comfort. If you live in a different city, not to mention province, you will be uprooting them from all that is familiar, which can be very disorienting.

Third, is your home a viable residence for them? This includes the physical layout, of course. Seniors may be able to handle stairs and narrow quarters now, but not if they develop mobility problems and need a walker or wheelchair to get around. But you also need to think about your lifestyle. If you and your spouse work outside the home while your children go to school and participate in after-school activities, your parents will spend a large amount of time alone. They could end up feeling more isolated than ever, especially if they can no longer drive. Here are some other lifestyle factors to consider:

Meals: some medial conditions require people to eat at set times. Who is going to make their meals? Will you eat dinner as a family each night?

Entertaining: Do you have people over a lot? Will you include your parents in these gatherings? If not, how will they feel if they are excluded?

There are countless families where three generations cohabit quite happily. You and your loved ones stand a better chance of being among them if you discuss these and other issues beforehand. Clear up any potential misunderstandings and then keep the lines of communication open.

Table of Contents:

Part 1: Understanding the big picture

A. Dealing with emotions

1. Grief
2. The family dynamic
3. The world doesn’t stop when someone dies

B. Dealing with reality
4. Acceptance
5. Parenting your parents
6. Living arrangements
7. Deciding to live under one roof
8. The talks nobody wants but must have
9. Finding strength when your loved one is dying
10. Final passage

Part II: Taking care of the details

A. Dealing with legal and financial issues
11. Who does what
12. Wills
13. Death and taxes
14. The distribution of assets
15. Governments
16. The bank
17. Other financial issues
18. Who else should know

B. Dealing with stuff

19. Moving a senior
20. Getting an appraisal
21. Keeping stuff
22. Selling household contents
23. Selling real estate
24. Giving it away or throwing it out


1. Sample of medical journal
2. List of household and other duties
3. Sample of agenda for family meeting
4. Canada safety council
5. “The Talk” checklist
6. Retirement home review
7. Dying at home and palliative care
8. Sample letter — cancellation of services
9. Timeline for wrapping up the estate