Ed Lauber's Royal Send-off
Recently my husband, Ed Lauber, passed away. While I won’t deny that this is a difficult time dealing with the raw emotions of losing someone, it is also an opportunity for reflection and personal growth. Since starting this process three years ago, and knowing my husband’s multiple illnesses were incurable, I decided to use this experience constructively as wife and caregiver.
Being happily married for 41 years to a wonderful man, I was confident I had tackled the wife bit. But considering my new role as caregiver responsible for Ed’s health and wellbeing, I knew I had much to learn. Naturally, my primary focus was making sure Ed was safe, comfortable, and able to maintain a high quality of life. Tangentially, I wanted to understand the different aspects of my burgeoning role so that perhaps later I could help others facing a similar situation. Here are a few of my take-aways.
Being prepared and having a game plan was obvious from the beginning. Fortunately, I was counseled at Mt. Sinai the same day that we received Ed’s diagnosis of Dementia and Parkinson’s. While I was still in shock, I tried hard to take in what Fay, my social worker, had to say about planning for the future: Make an appointment with an elder care lawyer to update your will, power of attorney, and health proxy; determine whether to use home care or assisted living; take care of all financial matters, including banking, loans, 401 K plans, credit cards and insurance policies; get rid of any unnecessary monthly expenses (mine was a car lease); make sure you know the funeral preference of your loved one; and finally, find time to take care of yourself.
When Fay first mentioned this, it surprised me. Then she said, “If you are not in good health, you will be in no shape to care for Ed.” She was right even though it took a while for me to stop feeling guilty whenever I would slip away to go to the gym or see an exhibit. Eventually, I fully embraced the importance of good health and positive mindset, two factors critical to providing my husband with the best care possible.
After visiting several assisted living facilities, I made the decision to care for Ed at home. Again, I listened to Fay who gave me the name of Lean-on-we, an employment agency for professional caregivers. Eventually, my husband required 24/7 care which three men--Mamadou, Bibi and Michael--provided. These gentlemen all came from Africa where elders are revered and treated with respect. They lovingly cared for Ed as they would have cared for their own fathers, something which was priceless to our family.
The value of a strong support system
Without family close-by for daily emotional support, I leaned heavily on our friends. Over the years, Ed and I had developed many strong relationships as a couple and as individuals. The caring support of our “village” during the past three years wildly exceeded my expectation. People could not have been more generous with their time, expertise and moral support. Invitations to lunch, drinks, lectures were abundant. Offers to prepare meals poured in. My friend Lila organized monthly “friends and family” pot luck suppers between three couples to keep tabs on Ed and me. Connie and our goddaughters Zoe and Mei invited me for afternoons in their Brooklyn home to offer me respite from my Manhattan reality. “Just let me do something, even pick up your dry-cleaning,” begged Erica from CancerCare. My cycling pal, Jan, convinced me to fly to Sicily for a bike trip which allowed for a much-needed de-stressing.
Allow your friends to help
Towards the end, the boundless offers touched my soul deeply with gratitude. People called, texted and sent caring notes. Everyone sincerely wanted to do something. As I consider myself an excessively independent, and, I’ve been told, also competent individual, initially I resisted. Eventually, I gave in and learned how to said, “Yes, and thank-you.” I began to understand the importance of allowing others to express their caring through their deeds. When I needed to set up Ed’s memorial at the funeral home, organize the logistics for his City Bakery send-off party and even pick up his ashes, there was always someone there for me.
Many of my support group were fellow members of Les Dames d’Escoffier: Joan, Deborah, Eleanor, Janine —and even from afar Ann and Barbara—all expressed their willingness to help. Beth and Chandni, employees at my former company, Cornerstone Communications, stepped up to the plate with technical assistance, youthful smilesand margaritas. My Italian class buddy and recent widow, Joan, shared her experiences so that I knew what to expect.
Death should not be a taboo
Along the way, there were some conversations with my close friends about Ed’s pending death. But, by and large, I hesitated to press this as most Americans are awkward with the topic. There are probably many reasons for this. I suspect part of it is because we are such a youth-oriented culture. Also, unlike more agrarian cultures, people in our country are generally out of synch with nature. There is nothing more natural than birth and then death. As much as we don’t want to accept the reality, life simply cannot go on forever.
If truth be told, too, there is also a selfish aspect in death. We don’t want to be robbed of someone we love. We don’t want to acknowledge that a person will not be eternally young and healthy. We don’t want to see someone suffer. But, here’s the real bottom line: in observing death in others, we confront our own mortality.
Discussing the pending death of someone is considered taboo in our country except maybe with family and the closest of friends. Frequently, the topic is overtly avoided because people don’t want to upset you. I, too, bought into this myth by often side-stepping the mention of Ed’s rapidly declining health. Towards the end, however, I needed to release myself from this cultural constraint. Silence was stiffening. Speaking, on the other hand, was cathartic. By openly discussing Ed’s imminent passing, I could begin the mourning process in a healthy way.
Determine how you want to mourn
When Ed passed away, it was not a complete surprise as we knew he only had several years to live when he was diagnosed. Naturally, I was heartbroken as Ed and I had a marriage that many people envied. As I went about the process of mourning—a term which before it happened to me, always conjured up an image of a little, old Sicilian lady wearing a shapeless black dress, sensible shoes and random strands of long hairs pocking out on her chin—I knew the weeping widow was not for me. Rather, I wanted to manage my sadness by focusing on remembering all the happiness I experienced with my husband and gain strength from it.
The Death Café movement
Perhaps I could have fast forwarded to this realization a bit had I known earlier about the Death Café movement. Joan, my canine fashion designer friend, introduced me to this as we were pondering over coffee one morning why Americans are so uncomfortable with death. This movement, which started in the UK in 2011, is now global. America alone has 6,700 Death Cafés where people meet over tea and cookies to make conversation about dying from the mundane perspective to the philosophical.
In a 2018 article The New York Times described this phenomenon as “a kind of beautiful rehearsal from coming closer to death and understanding it and grappling with it, so that when we do have a death pending in our families, as is inevitable, we might be a little more prepared for it and slightly less rattled.”
Celebrating Ed’s life
In lieu of a traditional funeral (Ed prepaid for his at Frank Campbell, by the way!), I decided to organize a memorial one month after my husband’s passing. It was a two-day, full-on, celebration of his life. Family and friends flew in from Europe and around the country to share amusing stories of Ed’s remarkable 86 years. As a businessman, he left a legacy few people in the wine industry can rival. As a husband, I couldn’t have picked a better one.
And now, even with my grief, I plan to seek out ways to grow in a positive, healthy way through the next chapters of my life. I am confident Ed would not have wanted it any other way.