By Rodney Bakken, Director of Operations, Cornerstone Senior Services –
My wife nearly died in early November. Twenty-six years together, and we’ve never had a shock like this! Her body turned suddenly septic, her kidneys and lungs were failing, and her blood pressure was 44. That was just the start of her problems. I’ve become deeply familiar with life in the waiting room. And in the hospital room.
Since I mostly work with retired people, I’m no stranger to the realities of sickness and aging. At Cornerstone, we get to help families prepare for hard times. Help people get their financial house in order so they can WEATHER storms like this. But I never thought my bride would get so sick in her early forties. Boy did I get a wakeup call! Now, I’m having to take care of my bride (visiting and sleeping at the hospital so she’s never alone), teach my children (we homeschool), handle all the household business, try to get some work done, and coordinate long-term care plans once my wife goes in to physical rehab. Basically, I’m doing BOTH jobs of a full-time homeschool teacher and mom, as well as a full time worker outside the home. Plus, I’m not nearly as gifted as my wife is in certain areas of life. So where she excels, I struggle. We complement each other beautifully!
If you’re married, chances are you don’t know EVERYTHING your spouse does at home. I have huge gaps of knowledge in relation to what my bride does day-to-day. Well, I know WHAT she does, but not exactly HOW she does it all. I trust her. She does her stuff, I do mine. Now however, I’m having to reconstruct her normal routine. She was in a coma for six days. Unable to help me as I struggled to juggle our life. It would have been amazing to have a set of documents prepared JUST IN CASE. Something we could call a ‘family responsibility journal.’ Things that would guide me in reconstructing what was necessary to have life ‘work’ in case I was alone.
When you end up in the waiting room one day, after reading this article, you’ll hopefully be well prepared. And avoid extra stress and uncertainty.
Roles & Responsibilities
Get to know what your spouse does for your family. WRITE IT DOWN! You’ll be extra thankful for him or her once you realize all the things they do. Some quick examples:
– Yard work
– Home repairs
– Auto repairs
– Paying the bills
– Doing the dishes and laundry
– Watching children or grandchildren
– Investing and insurance
– Taking care of older family members or friends
Without clear details on the actual nuts and bolts of what your spouse does, during times of stress and heartache, it will be too hard to put it together. Some things just simply get dropped. For example, my electric bill was due three days after my wife was Life-Flighted to the hospital. I found out about that when the electric company called me to ask about the bill. I paid it immediately. Yet, in the thick of things when survival was NOT assured for my wife, I had no clear picture of what family business needed to be dealt with. I could have put it together had I been home. Or had my bride been awake. But she was on life support. And I was at the hospital day and night.
What’s needed is a brief, clear journal detailing EACH “Area of Responsibility” for each spouse. So one spouse can keep the family afloat if needed. Use a 3-ring binder to start. But start today!
Getting Clear & Current
This idea of a family responsibility journal has gained a lot of traction with my friends. Some have told me, “I’m MUCH too disorganized to do that!”, or “Where would I even START?!” It’s important to say that if you ARE disorganized now, it’ll be much worse when you find yourself in the hospital waiting room. Here are some ideas of items to get together in order to make your plan:
1. Bills & recurring business – put these all together, BY DUE DATE, on a calendar. It would have been nice for me to know that on the 5th of the month my electric bill is due.
2. Banking & financial – put retirement and bank account info in a central place, alphabetically. List brief details like “Bob’s company 401(k) retirement account.”
3. Health & Medical – list all doctors, medications and medical plan information. Trust me, your husband won’t really remember who your OB/GYN is. Write it down. It would help to also have a brief health history written down, like dates of surgeries and health issues. It’s KEY for you to have a Living Will and Healthcare Power of Attorney for each spouse.
4. Family & Household – gather a list of exactly what you do in areas like, picking up kids and grandkids, friends and family to notify during emergencies, and even laundry soap used.
a. About a week into my wife’s ICU stay, I went home to change, and found there were no clean clothes. No problem! I’ll do some laundry! Well, my wife makes her own laundry soap. And it was time to make a new batch. There I was, looking at a bunch of boxes of laundry soap ingredients. With no clue how to make it. It turns out that soap is not necessary. But you get my point. A friend ended up buying us some laundry soap.
b. More important is notifying family and friends. It was hard for me to know WHO I had spoken to. The first night in the hospital, fifty friends from church showed up. I was text messaging and calling a huge amount of other people. There were many oversights. Like all our extended family. Dad is the youngest of ten kids. So my family is gigantic. We all need important friends, family and coworkers listed in a central place. People love you! They WANT TO KNOW if you have an emergency.
We’ll all end up in the waiting room one day. At the doctor’s office or hospital. Waiting for test results. Praying for someone through surgery or sickness. Physical life is fragile life. It should provoke very little shock. Tragedy strikes – everyone!
There is hope for us all. We do not HAVE TO BE caught totally surprised. With a little planning we can avoid some of the worst shocks. We can KNOW what needs to be done so life can return to normalcy as much as possible in the midst of a terrible situation. We can receive support from those who love us. We can achieve confidence and clarity. But only if we plan NOW when life is ‘normal.’ Let’s face it, it could be that tomorrow your life could take on “a new normal.” Are you ready?