By Shanoo

In a previous blog I discussed the importance of communicating medical directives to family members and doctors. Which got me thinking about the kinds of ‘directives’ I’ve been issuing to my family over the years. Seems they come quite naturally and easily to me!

As a parent one gets used to issuing daily directives like, “neaten up your room”, “please stop negotiating everything, it’s only 3pm and I’m exhausted”, “empty the dishwasher, NOW!

The ‘limited-edition-short-person’ in the house (aka my son), has grown quite familiar with my directives, especially since Michele and I set up Transition Solutions. That’s one of the perks of having this particular business. I get to see some possible care options in Johannesburg and explore the full range of topics associated with growing older, and I am quite happy to share my observations with him.

Here is a list of some of my directives to him so far:

In the early months of the business, he had to accompany us on one of our visits to a retirement home and wait for me in the car. After the tour of the home which catered only for about 23 residents, I got back in the car and said, “Ok, when you get to the point when you want to take a rubber mallet to my head, you can put me in here. It seems quite lovely, organised and lots of beautiful flowers everywhere.”

We also attended his tutor’s grandfather’s memorial service at his retirement home last year. Not knowing many people there, and while waiting to greet the family, I turned to him and said that perhaps we should go check this place out for future options for me. It seemed nice enough! Then, after looking down the drive-way, I thought I should add that maybe if he did put me in there, he may get a call from the manager saying, “Mr Mudhan, why ever did you buy your mother that motorised wheelchair, she’s just taken off down the drive way and out into the street. No one can catch up with her!” So that joke became another directive. Buy me a motorised wheelchair if I need one sometime. Anyone who knows me knows how much I value mobility.

Here’s another from when he was much younger. “When you come to pick me up (in your Lamborghini, off course) to take me out for Mother’s Day lunch, don’t let me drool into the soup. Make sure you wipe my chin pretty quickly.” I reminded him that we made that deal when he was months old and I loved that he wasn’t a drooley baby and I only had to wipe him up occasionally.

(Directive to self – make sure to present Noah with a rubber mallet in a glass case with the sign “Break in Emergency” printed on it. I told him he gets that when I turn 60, which is not too far off!)

The other day we chatted about my love of reading and my regret that he is a reluctant reader, but that I no longer seem to have the time to indulge in the unburdened, carefree way that I used to read, stacking up books in anticipation. Now I don’t even stack them, they surround me and mock my absorption in other, more pressing things. Anyway, I then said to him that if I am living in a retirement place somewhere, to please make sure that if I can’t read for myself then he would have someone read to me daily. That and gifts of Lego, I added. I wouldn’t need much else if basic needs were taken care of. Perfume, flowers and chocolates count as basic needs. I love Lego and didn’t know what joy and fun it was until I had my boy. I used to tell him I had a deprived childhood, Lego-less, and that it was good to share his toys with everyone, mothers included.

All this makes me realise what, at heart, the purpose of directives, crucial and frivolous, written or verbal, are, and why they are so important. It communicates your preferences to your loved ones and provides them with an assurance that they are doing what you wanted and not what they think you would want. It creates freedom for them to remember you and honour your memory without the confusion and anxiety that could accompany a painful time.

No document can cover every possible eventuality nor predict that loved ones will be near when we let go of life. Once a will was considered sufficient, then we had living wills, and now directives and directives about care, dementia, Alzheimer’s, all fine tuning what may become necessary when life is supported but we’re unable to participate in that life.

Disclaimer: Rubber mallets only of the softest kind and in no way meant to encourage assault on the aged.

We would love to hear about your directives or invite you to leave a comment.