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When I was growing up and my parents talked about getting old, my father would often make the preposterous claim that, when he died, he wanted to be buried in the backyard under the silver maples that he had planted as a young man. “Just put me in a wooden box and dig a big […]

When I was growing up and my parents talked about getting old, my father would often make the preposterous claim that, when he died, he wanted to be buried in the backyard under the silver maples that he had planted as a young man. “Just put me in a wooden box and dig a big hole,” he would say.

My mother would roll her eyes. She didn’t share her husband’s choice for final disposition. Yet both of them were adamant that they never be placed in a nursing home. “I’d rather live in the garage,” said my father, with complete sincerity. 

My father died at age 58, my mother at 69. Although they were never forced to move into a nursing home, each was tethered to life support in an ICU for days before they passed away.
Neither left directives on what their children should do if they were incapacitated or after they were gone. It was up to their four children to figure it out. I vividly remember listening to the conflicting opinions of two neurologists as my siblings and I struggled to determine whether surgery would prolong our mother’s life. How to know? How to decide?
In the end, we believed we made the right choices. But we had no guidance from our parents and very little from the hospital staff.  

The experience was a sobering lesson. A few years later, my wife and I sat down with an attorney to draw up documents that give instructions on how our authorized “agents” (our children) will manage our medical care, financial holdings, housing options – even choices on anatomical gifts – when we cannot. Neither of us had any inclination to live in a garage or be buried in the backyard. But we strongly believed that our son and daughter, now adults, should have very clear directives on our end-of-life choices. 

I count the move as one of the best decisions my wife and I have made as a couple.

To navigate similar decisions as you or family members prepare for the future, we offer a special report this month on preparing for the Golden Years. In “Handle with Care,” we gather valuable advice from the experts – medical ethicists, elder-care lawyers, social service directors, nurses and mental health counselors. We also asked our writers and readers to share their own stories about their shifting roles as children – and caregivers – of aging parents. 

Taken together, these stories have a powerful, cumulative impact. Hopefully, they’ll inspire you to make an informed decision on life-and-death matters that should not and cannot be ignored. 

Also this month, we uncover some eye-opening details about how the five-county sales tax earmarked for Miller Park is spent. In “The Palace,” Associate Editor Matt Hrodey explains how tax dollars contribute to a multimillion dollar reserve fund that will cover repairs and maintenance well past the expiration of the current 2030 lease, should the Brewers renew the lease beyond that. While the stadium district extends the sunset date for the 0.1 percent sales tax, taxpayers continue to fund repairs – from upgrades of the ballpark’s sound system ($370,222) to new carpeting in the Club Level ($268,600). 

The story could be useful as discussions begin on building a new sports-entertainment arena in Downtown Milwaukee. 

As our readers have come to expect, both of these articles stir the debate of issues that could directly touch your life. 

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