The Catholic schoolgirl in me doesn’t like using that kind of language, but you’ll come to appreciate why I’ve thrown in the towel on some rules of decorum when it comes to that subject. There’s simply not much to say about dementia, except…well…
I became exposed to this disease at a fairly early age. My grandfather was one of my heroes. A tough survivor of a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp during World War II, Grandad was skilled at making me scrambled eggs when I was five, and he introduced me to bowling when I was seven.
When I was nine years old, Grandad took me under his wing and taught me to play a proper game of pool but, by the time I was 11, visits to Grandad’s were sad, as I found him simply staring…
At nothing. Not out the window. Not into space. Into nothingness. Granddad was gone—physically with us, yes, but mentally the man I loved was absolutely gone.
When the Tables Turn
I am beginning this journey now with my mom. She was diagnosed with the beginning stages of dementia two summers ago and lives in Westchester County outside of New York, which was ground zero for some of the worst COVID outcomes in America.
She stayed at home to stay safe. While she avoided catching the virus, the year its toll on her in a different way. Watching QVC all day with a pint of ice cream in hand is not a healthy lifestyle. Her sisters were able to visit in early April and expressed a real sense of alarm.
With one shot of the vaccine in her, she travelled home with my family and me to Virginia, where we realized very quickly she couldn’t return home.
She needed help bathing and dressing, couldn’t make herself a meal, and couldn’t organize her pills. After a 47-year career as a very competent surgical nurse, my mom was not up to the simplest tasks.
Yes, this is the same woman who used to wake me at 7 a.m. with my laundry folded, my lunch packed, my school uniform ironed, and dinner prepped and oven-ready for later in the day.
But things are different. She isn’t herself and has come to rely almost completely on me, my husband Brad, and my 21-year-old son Andrew.
Handing Down Heirlooms
Brad had meetings in New York last week so he did a side trip to help Mom pack up a few of her things. Mom called to say she’s bringing back some jewelry for my children and asked me if I wanted the painting that hung above the family sofa my entire childhood.
I asked if she wanted to hold on to these items but mom said no. She wants to give these treasures to my children and me while she still has her memory.
My mom certainly isn’t lucky to know the fate in front of her. But she is lucky to still be able to make decisions about precious belongings – to make sure her treasures are intentionally bequeathed to her favorite people.
One day, I’m afraid she will be like Grandad – staring into the unknown not realizing who I am or recognizing my children. Maybe I sound dramatic but this is not my first visit to this particular rodeo. I know what lies ahead.
The lesson behind all this? You never know what the future holds. Did I ever think that my smart-as-a-whip mom would suffer from dementia in her seventies? Never. Plan for the future. Think about who will truly appreciate your prized possessions.
Cementing Your Legacy
Furthermore, if there are charitable causes that are part of your legacy, make sure to include them in your estate plans. Making plans now, while you can be thoughtful, is better than waiting until it becomes a pressing matter during a period of heightened stress.
Do you want to leave a legacy gift to your church or synagogue? Perhaps you want to develop a program that advances liberty at your alma mater? Or is there a think tank you hold dear that advocates for limited government at the state, national, or international level?
Simply put, take this time to think about your future and your legacy. I’m proud Mom is contemplating her legacy and, in turn, her planning is making me revisit my own ideas. I don’t want you to start planning when it’s too late. I’d love to broaden this conversation and help you think about your philanthropic goals, too – today.
Ready to discuss your long-term giving goals and how DonorsTrust can help? Reach out to Stephanie Lips at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the DonorsTrust office at 703-535-3563.