Year of loss inspires determination to be ready for life and death

Voices of the Clarion

Posted: Sunday, December 10, 2006

The New Year is sitting just over the horizon, teasingly close. Close enough to want to let out a sigh of relief and yet far enough away to hold my breath just in case something happens.

Two main school of thoughts come into play during New Year’s: the “let bygones be bygones” camp and the “look back and see where we came from and where we are going” camp. Then there are people like me who use it as a time to party and write lists of things I somehow hope will take place without a real game plan — except for this year.

This soon-to-be-past year is not the only thing I will have laid to rest in the last 365 days. The two people whom most influenced my life and somehow managed to love me despite that I am me, my adoptive parents Norman and Ute Kautz, died within four months of each other.

Married 42 years, Pop subscribed to the forget the past and plow forward school of thought, and Mom was the “let’s look back, mull it over, learn some lessons and make next year better” camp.

They went everywhere together — except when he went hunting. Yet they somehow managed to be completely different people while “connected at the hip.” Now I can see it was a matter of just respecting the other, something they learned over time.

Mom was a German immigrant who learned to speak English from watching TV. She didn’t see what all the fuss was about for, well, anything. Work, politics or relationships all had the same answers.

“I don’t see the problem, just listen to each other. For goodness sake,” she said.

Pop’s family was Russian immigrants and he grew up in North Dakota. His answer to everything was “it’s the government’s fault.” That answer covered everything from too much rain to the price of gas.

Try it.

Whatever someone asks, you answer, “It’s the governments fault.”

It doesn’t even matter what age you are. Didn’t feed the dog? Forgot to pay a bill? Left the milk out? It’s all covered.

Pop was in no way was anti-American. He served his country honorably and with merit for more than 20 years. They were rabid Democrats, always voted and raised children who, despite being in the middle of planning our dad’s funeral, ran out and voted.

They were not perfect. They used their imperfections as lessons in forgiveness to each other and for us kids.

This new year I will make my resolution list and, in honor of my folks, look from their perspectives and have a game plan.

So, this year’s list:

· I will write my own obituary. So no one has to guess what I want said and what should never be mentioned to the general public. It also stops the argument as to who gets named by name and who only merits a general mention, such as “and many nieces and nephews.”

· I will write a will. So all the macaroni art gets to the right kid and the priceless antique broken clocks, cars and rusty lawn furniture knows to which home it belongs. And since I still have a minor at home, I need to make sure someone is ready to take on a 15-year-old 5-foot-10 eating machine. Anyone? Anyone?

· I will prepay for my services. This way I get what I want and the child who always felt like he got the smallest piece of pie can’t vote to put me out on an ice floe or put my ashes in an empty cereal box.

· I will fill out and give copies of my end of life requests to all family members who have a say in it legally (especially the child most likely to vote for the aforementioned ice floe). Nothing is harder than having three family members know you want cremation and the others, who want a place to go grieve, asking that it be proven in writing.

· I will sit down and have the discussion about where I want to die, if that is all possible. Mom died eight months almost to the day of her diagnoses of pancreatic cancer. It was a long, ugly and hard road that she faced with a dignity and grace I can only hope to achieve. She knew one more day in the hospital was not what she wanted. She wanted to be home. Her writing it down and being brave enough to tell us when we did not want to hear it gave us time to prepare and in the end have her at home. She died in our arms.

Left undone we would not have been able to make it happen. Pop’s answer would come into play — red governmental tape would have prevented her coming home. (We are still dealing with paperwork.)

Pop didn’t cover his bases before his stroke almost two years ago. The stroke left him unable to talk or care for himself. We had nothing in writing to help guide us. As it happened he died in an instant. On moment he was looking at me with his funny lopsided grin and the next he was gone. He died of an aneurysm. But he still left everything up to six very sad kids.

No matter how old you are when your folks die you seem to instantly become a little kid, and I want my kids to not have to think about what needs to happen next.

· The last thing on my list — I will have my kids and granddaughter over every week for dinner and love them greatly and often, serve them all equally huge pieces of pie and let that one kid I mentioned earlier have his first.

On New Year’s Eve I will go outside and as the clock turns over I will exhale and let the hardest year of my life go. Then I will take in huge gulping breaths of the new year, with its promise of great things to come, and be grateful my parents were in my life and that I was loved.

Nancianna Misner is the newsroom assistant at the Clarion.

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