Podcast #92 Dying with Dad: Tough Talks for Easier Endings – Yvonne Caputo – Author

Yvonne Caputo felt compelled to write about her experiences with her father and family. She wrote “Flying with Dad: A Daughter. A Father. And the Hidden Gifts in His Stories from World War II” plus her second book, “Dying With Dad: Tough Talks for Easier Endings.” In her work in retirement homes and as a psychotherapist, Yvonne knew that it mattered to have conversations about the end of life, and because she and her dad were able to have those, including working through “The Five Wishes,” they gained trust, clarity and connection.

fivewishes.org

Transcription:

Diane Hullet: Hi, I’m Diane Hullet and welcome to the Best Life Best Death podcast. Today I’ve got a really interesting guest, an author of two books, and I think my listeners are really gonna appreciate the messages and the content in your books. So welcome to Yvonne Caputo. 

Yvonne Caputo: I’m glad to 

Diane Hullet: be here. Well, thanks. I guess I don’t even know where I came across these.

Maybe I saw something on Facebook and then we reached out to each other. Yvonne’s first book is called Flying with Dad, and it’s a beautiful memoir about her, her father’s time in World War ii and what it was like to be raised in a family at that time in the country. And I guess let’s start there, Yvonne.

Let’s talk a little bit about how you came to write that. And then we’ll dive into book 

Yvonne Caputo: two in 2008 on a very dark jury. January night, I was on the phone with my father. It was our weekly phone call. I live in southeastern Pennsylvania. Dad lived in Northwestern Pennsylvania and he was 85. His health was failing.

And most of the time when we talked on the phone, it was doctor’s appointments and in-home care and grocery shopping and all those kinds of things. And then it would be kind of silence because we wouldn’t have much else to talk about it. It was just the relationship I had with my father. But on this jury, January night, he opened up and told, A quirky, funny off the wall story of all things making an emergency landing in freed Belgium near the end of World War ii.

And I said to him, I said, hold on, let me go get a pencil and paper. I wanna write this down. His exact words were, 

Diane Hullet: what the hell do you wanna do that for? And I 

Yvonne Caputo: said, why would you bother? Yeah, why would you bother? I said, I think this is something that the family would really like to know. The very next phone call, kind of unbidden, spontaneous.

I said, dad, if you’re willing, start at the. And story after story, after story rolled off his tongue. And somewhere in the midst of all of this, I said to myself, I have a book. Yeah. Now I’d never written before. All right? I was getting very close to retiring, but I just got bitten by what I considered to be really good stuff in that Dad was an ordinary gi.

He didn’t get a purple heart. He wasn’t Eisenhower, he wasn’t f d r. He wasn’t stolen, he wasn’t, he didn’t participate in like D-Day or the Battle of the Bulge, but my father navigated B 24 bombers over the English channel, dropping incendiary bombs on Germany and France towards the end of the, And so I really felt that these stories had an audience, and so that’s how it all began.

Diane Hullet: That’s great. That’s great. And I love, you know, the structure of that book is really, it’s like you take time at the beginning to really tell about you as a child, your relationship with both your parents and your siblings in those early years. And you really kind of lay the framework, the foundation of the values, you know, that came from him and from your mom.

That led to these tight sibling relationships and somewhat distant parents. You know, I think they were, he sounded like he was just a classic man of his generation. And then the second half of the book really becomes his story and really a lot of detail about how his interest in planes turned into a career in planes and.

Going on to be a navigator and what a, what a powerful job that was. What an important job that was. Because without the Navigator, you could fly the plane, but you might end up in the wrong place. So I loved you pulled out tremendous details about that experience for him. The 

Yvonne Caputo: book went through Fort Rewrites as any, now I know any author will tell you, you know, that, that that’s just what happens.

And the structure of the book, thank God, came from my publish. Ingen books. I did a lot of research and decided to publish independently because at my age I was really afraid I’d keep sending the draft in and sending it in and sending it in, and I wanted to tell the story so badly that I decided to do it independently, but I didn’t want it to be anything but the best.

So I researched about how you went about this, and I really decided that I needed a publisher. Interviewed four of them. Bonnie Wagner’s staffer, who is my editor, listened to me in a way, none of the other three did. She was interested in the story. She was interested in me. She wanted to know the goals that I had for the book.

She took my third draft. She threw it in a blender. She tossed it back at me and said, this is what I think you need to do with it. She’s the one that came up with section one, section two, and section three. Section one and three were fairly straightforward in that. Those are my personal experiences, but as a new writer, when it came to section two, she said to.

I want you to write it in your father’s voice. And I went, what? 

Diane Hullet: How have I gonna do that? 

Yvonne Caputo: How am I gonna do that? Well, I had all of my father’s letters to my mother from the war, so I read Anne Reread and read Anne, reread those letters so that I could get a sense of how my father might talk about it. The other thing that I did was a lot of.

I was all over Google. I mean, I found black and white films of what a navigator would do. I got in on a plane and I went to Texas, I don’t know from Texas, you know, I’m from Pennsylvania. I drove to, what would’ve been the air bases that my father was. I’m in Texas and there are palm trees, and I’m like, blown away because I didn’t know that.

So I did a lot of research because I wanted to fill in the gaps with my dad’s story. So that’s how that section happened. And as a, a former master’s student, you know, you do those papers and, and, and it’s like, oh my goodness, I have to, I wa it wasn’t like that for me. It was just, It was trying to get at or touch base, and by this time of course, dad was gone.

So then I was really pushed to make it as real as I could. 

Diane Hullet: Without having the, the source there to really ask the questions, but how amazing that you had all these letters to rely on and his voice through those letters. And, and then, and then in section three, the end of the book is really that he dies and he dies with you present and he’s got a do not resuscitate a D N R.

And so you’re very clear when there’s a problem and the emergency people show up, you’re very clear about. And then tell. Talk about how, cuz I think it’s so interesting that here you write this book that’s so much about bombers and World War II and family values and, and what it was like growing up for you.

But the questions you got most about that book led to your second book. 

Yvonne Caputo: I was blown away. I was really blown away because, I didn’t expect that people would get into that in the way that they did, and the questions of how could you do that? Didn’t you wanna save his life? Where did the courage come from?

Those kinds of things. And having written the first book was that my father and I got to the place that I had always wanted to. I was his daughter in every sense of the word. He trusted me with his soul so that when we had done an advanced directive and when we had done the five wishes, I was just bent that when the EMTs were working on him, that that’s not what he.

He wanted to be carried feet first out of his own home, and so when the E M T said that his five wishes weren’t good cuz they were older, that I understand now is not the case. I knew that there was a do not resuscitate order because dad had just been in the hospital. And by the way, every time he went in the hospital, I called and made sure that that order was on his chart because I never knew and he never knew.

And since I was his healthcare agent, I knew I couldn’t speak for him unless it was there. So the emergency room doctor, Called the EMTs at the house and said, you can stop working on them. And so then I was able to just lay down his, beside him, tell him that I loved him, told him that it was okay, that he could go, that I would miss him.

And then I said The Lord’s Prayer and his ear, because the Lord’s Prayer was glue in our. There was a, there was never a time that we were at church together when it came time to say the Lord’s Prayer, that we weren’t holding hands. So it was this, it was this 20 minutes of filled with grace filled with assurance.

I knew what I was doing was the right thing.

And now when I think back to that experience, it fills me with such joy. Yeah. Yeah. Do I miss him? I do. Right. Are there times when I get filled with tears in the missing of him? Absolutely. But that’s balanced out by having given my father the gift of all gifts, that he was carried feet first out of his own.

Diane Hullet: Exactly as he had wished and communicated really clearly. Yes. Well, let’s, let’s jump into the second. So, so the second book was really a response to the end of the first book, and then people kind of saying, well, wait, how’d that come to be? Mm-hmm. So I wanna read. This one piece from the intro of the second book, and then I want to jump back into, you know, the advanced directive, the five wishes, how you came to learn about that.

So I love this in the introduction of Dying with Dad. Yvonne writes In many homes, death is the elephant in the room. People arrange the furniture around its mass, vacuum under its low slung belly, and avoid its inquisitive trunk. They close their ears to its trumpeting call and avoid staring at the expanse of gray.

I just thought that was taking that great elephant in the room metaphor to a great level, so, so how did you come to learn about five wishes and have, go through that work with your dad? 

Yvonne Caputo: I started out as a classroom teacher, went on and got a second master’s degree in clinical psychology, ended up working in an employee assistance program and from there in a retirement c.

And I was one of the members of the ethics team, and we had a resident who could no longer speak for herself. Her dementia was that far advanced, and she got an abscess on her foot. And the doctor was recommending Whirlpool bath and something else. And the daughter said she didn’t want those to happen because her mother had said quality of life and had an advanced directive that said quality of life, but it was from another state.

So the state of Pennsylvania could not honor that. So the case ended up in. And this poor woman was given two surrogates, one surrogate who would allow for the antibiotics and the rool bath. The second surrogate could be her daughter who would say no to an amputation. And when I, when I heard that, I called my father and I said, do you have an advanced directive?

And he said, what’s that? And I said, well, it’s the document that you name somebody to speak for you when you can. He said No. I said, is it okay if I get the ball rolling? He said, sure. So I found an attorney in his hometown. I drove home, we did the document. Okay. So I’m still working at this retirement community and our National Health administrator, our n hha, had just come back from a conference, and the conference was about nursing homes and nursing care, and she was so.

She held up this blue and white pamphlet called The Five Wishes, and she started talking about it in such glowing terms. So I asked her if I could borrow it and she said, sure, make sure you get it back to me. Well, as my, the employees that knew me when they saw my desk, it was piled higher and deeper.

Okay, so one Friday night, I decide I’m gonna clean it off and there it is. There’s the five wish. And I opened it up and I started to read and I couldn’t put it down. I said to myself, holy mackerel, I’ve gotta get home and do this with dad. Yes, we have the advanced directive, but the five wishes. How comfortable do you wanna be?

What do you want your children to know? What kind of a funeral service do you. All of these very intimate questions that I had no idea about. So I did the six and a half hour drive across the state with this blue and white pamphlet on the seat beside me, really nervous. My father could be pretty gruff, you know, like I said, what the hell do you mean?

So I didn’t know how he was gonna handle. Me going back over the same subject. But Grace was with me because I walked in the room and he was in one of those good moods and we sat down and we did it question by question by question. I went and found a couple of witnesses to witnesses, hand signature, and it was done.

It was done. And so when the time. When the time came, I knew everything. I knew everything I needed to do. 

Diane Hullet: And what a, what a sense of relief I think that provides as the healthcare proxy, as the family member, as the one who, who is there to do the speaking. Right? It’s not y you know, that it wasn’t just you and your opinions and a vague idea of what he wanted.

You knew you’d had the conversation with him. I love in, in your book, you, you say a few more things about it, which, which I think I’ll read now. You say, The five wishes are like advanced directives with heart and soul. Like an advanced directive document, it covers naming a person to make medical decisions if the person writing the document can no longer do so for reasons of physical or intellectual incapacity.

It also lists the kind of medical treatments that the person does or does not want, and under what conditions. But unlike other advanced directives, the five wishes, addresses other issues in the wish of how comfortable one wants to be. Some items are not wanting to be in pain. Pelp in cases of suspected depression being kept fresh and clean, having religious or spiritual readings when near death in the wish of how one wants to be treated by everyone.

For example, they talk about children, caregivers, friends and loved ones, the preferences of having people around and specifics like, do you want someone to hold your hand? And philosophical choices such as acting with kindness and cheerfulness rather than sadness or pity. Through the five wishes, family and friends of the loved one who are is dying, are able to receive messages such as they are loved, they are forgiven, and they’re wished.

Peace. So that document and that experience became really the foundation for you then heading into that final visit with him, where you felt really comfortable knowing what was true for him. Mm-hmm. 

Yvonne Caputo: Mm-hmm. It, it was the hardest. And easiest thing I probably have ever done in my life. And that’s why in the book, I call it a divine paradox and paradox being you can and you can’t.

You’re will and you won’t. It isn’t, it isn’t. Who really wants to watch their parent die? No one. But on the other side of it, it’s going to. Dad and I had talked about it, so if it’s going to happen as a daughter who says she loves her father, she’s gonna make sure that it, if she can, that it’s gonna happen in the way that he’s asked for it to happen.

Diane Hullet: I love that kind of early on in the book, the first book Flying with Dad, he makes a comment that he wants to be carried out feet first from his own home. Like he says that kind of in his gruff manner and at the time you kind of think, well, wow, I don’t know that that’s gonna happen. So then how amazing that years later that actually occurred.

You know why? I mean, I think we’ve touched on why these conversations can make a difference. Why do you think so many people find this so tough? Whether in either role, the role of the person who might be towards the end of life or the role of the loved one, or child or sibling or spouse who’s having to make these conversations occur if they can?

Yvonne Caputo: We, society have buried death and dying. It used to be that it was a family. It used to be that after someone died, that the family took care of preparing the body. It used to be all these kinds of things, but then we got funeral parlors and hospitals and, and it takes on this antiseptic kind of experience and, and so it’s hard to talk.

It’s not something that comes up in everyday conversation. That’s why the elephant in the room, you know, that’s why it started there. I, I get that. It’s hard to talk about, but if there was anything that I learned working in a retirement community is that our residents wanted to talk about. They wanted to be able to have someone sit and honor the fact that they would say, I wanna go.

I’m ready. I’m not doing the kinds of things that I used to do. All my friends are gone. I don’t have a purpose in life. I hurt all the time. I’m. Now the stories may vary a little bit, and of course this is much different from listening to somebody who wants to take their life. This is just someone who wants to talk about this, longing for it to be over.

So that experience of just sitting and listening I think was really helpful for me. The other other thing is, I’m a psychotherapist as well. So one of the things that happens in psychotherapy is people tell their pain, they tell their story, and as a therapist, you don’t take it on, you don’t make it part of you, you can’t.

But what you do do is you honor it by just listening. So what I say to people is, you don’t have to do. You just have to sit and listen and ask open-ended questions. Well, tell me more. Well, what makes you say that? You know, just to be there and, and, and to nod or to say that makes sense to me. It’s not a difficult thing.

Once you know what to do, and I can say to you, I think my entire. My entire life’s purpose was to gain the skills and the understanding to be with my father in the way that I was with him. It was, it was the plan. It was the reason that I was put on this earth, and now to have written two books to hopefully open it up for other people, and I can tell.

I interviewed people for dying with dad, and I have permission now from the daughter and father of this woman, but I talked to her, she was acutely ill, surgery after surgery, illness after illness, and she read flying with dad. And so I said to her, what did you think about the five wishes? And we talked.

And she was very open about it and she sat down with her family after she had completed it and went over it with her.

I re, I received a message that she had chosen to be in hospice and her husband set up a way for us to zoom. It lasted seven minutes. That’s all she could do.

She told me how much she appreciated dying with dad. She told me or how much she loved having done the five wishes. She told me she was ready.

Two days later she was gone and my heart aches because. I’ve talked to people about it and they’ve done the five wishes or children have been open to it, but this is the first time that what she got out of the two books became real. 

Diane Hullet: Yeah. Yeah. It’s like it, you really felt how it landed for her and what a difference it made in her death, and therefore in the lives of everyone around her.

Absolutely. And I can imagine that that one connection with her is probably the tip of the iceberg of the people who’ve been touched by this. 

Yvonne Caputo: I’ve had children in their thirties and forties say to me that their parents would try to talk about it, and they would say, no, no, no, mom and dad, no, no, no. We don’t need to do that now.

You know, let’s not talk about that now. Or vice versa, a elderly man. That I interviewed because again, he read flying with Dad and I got word back that he had told his children that he wanted to do a Zoom meeting with his children on his birthday, and his express purpose was to go over the five wishes with them.

That’s what he wanted to do, so he did when it got to. The part of the funeral and all that kind of stuff. He said, I’d like to be cremated. So his kid said, what do you want us to do with your ashes? And he said, oh, I don’t care. Just dump ’em over the bridge. Do something that’s really easy. Now, I learned from one of his children that that’s just how he was.

He didn’t wanna bother anybody. He didn’t want a big fuss. And they said, well, wait a minute, dad, wouldn’t you like your ashes? On the farmland where you grew up as a kid. Oh, and he said, he said, well, that’s too much trouble. Hey dad, that’s something that we would like to do for you if that’s something that you would like.

He went back and rewrote that part of the five wishes. So I’m getting those kinds of messages back as well. A third one, I sing in the community. And the president of our choir after the rehearsal was over was just like, really excited. Yvonne. Come here. Yvonne. Yvonne and I went over and she said, I just did my Medicare.

Oh. She was at the doctor’s office when they do the questions, the Medicare questions, and she said when it was all done, she said the physician’s assistant assistant who did the exam, handed her a copy of the five. Love that. And she was so excited that having read the book, she knew what this was all about and she was so excited that it was now in her doctor’s office and it was a part of what these doctors were doing.

Diane Hullet: Fantastic. I mean, wouldn’t we like to hear more of that? Right. So that at every doctor visit, maybe over the age of, I don’t know, 50 or something, that, that was part of the conversation. Mm-hmm. 

Yvonne Caputo: My granddaughter was diagnosed at the age 17 with leukemia. She’s fine, she’s in remission. It took three and a half years of chemo.

She was given the five wish. She was given the five wishes. 

Diane Hullet: So potent, so powerful, isn’t it? And to integrate that at, at a young age. Well, and, and you spoke to that, how you really, for you death was a big part of your life as a young person. You were just familiar with it in a lot of different ways, through various deaths in your family, and living in a time where death was more handled by family in a real direct way.

Well, Yvonne, I think we should throw out some resources for people. Where can people find your two books flying with? And dying with Dad. And dying with dad is subtitled tough talks for easier endings. And you know, one of the things I love about it is it’s not a huge book. It’s, you know, I don’t know how many pages is this.

It’s kind of A slim volume 126 pages. So pretty accessible and it’s really interwoven with your experience and your story. And then also your stories of, like you’ve said, people you know at at work and how things like the five wishes have impacted them. So let’s say your website and then I’ll also add another one.

Yvonne Caputo: I am on my publisher’s website, which is Ingenium Books I N G E N I U M books, so you can find out about me and my books on that website. I’m also on LinkedIn, so if you just google my name, Yvonne Caputo is not a, it’s an unusual name. You can find more about me there. The book Itselfs. The books it themselves.

Any independent bookstore, we’ll order it for you. I like giving business to independent bookstores. Of course your online retailers will have it and given an opportunity if your listeners read and like the books, I would request reviews, written reviews because they do help to keep the book being notice.

So those are, those are the resources. And then if anybody would want to get in touch with me, specifically yvonne yvonne caputo.com. yv****@yv**********.com

Diane Hullet: Fabulous. And I think it’s important to say five wishes too. So the Five Wishes website is five wishes.org filled with good information. And of course, you can check out the work I do at Best Life, best death.com and I, I’m just about to update my resources page and I wanna make sure.

I know five wishes is on it, but I wanna make sure, because there are a number of these now Five wishes is, is just one angle. There’re it’s an established one. It’s a familiar one. People really like it. There’s also the conversation project. There’s also end, well there’s Join Cake. So I think it’s, I think it’s really promising that there are more of these websites and conversations happening.

In fact, it popped in my head, Yvonne, do you ever talk to book groups? 

Yvonne Caputo: I. I’ll talk to libraries. I’ll talk to book groups. I’ll do podcasts. I do interviews on television. You name it. I mean, any kind of public speaking engagement, I would love to do conferences. All right, so, so any, anything like that I’m open to doing.

It’s just, I am passionate about it. I really am passionate about it. And to let your audience know, I’ve done my five wishes. My children all have a copy of my five wishes. My doctors have a copy of my five wishes. When I talked to my physician about it, he opened his door, the door in his exam room.

There was a stack of five wishes. The one. That is also available to computer nerds is that when you go to the five Wishes site, you can pay to do it online. It creates a P D F that you can print out, and that P D F will remain with them for a year. And of course, one of the things I need to do is I need to go back and review.

The five wishes that I’ve written, you know, does it still stand? Are these the things that I, I still want, 

Diane Hullet: I sort of think of it as our fire alarm batteries, like we just changed those once a year. We should just review these documents once a year. They’re really important. And as you found out with your dad, it’s like the older they get, the less relevant they’re seen, so really important to keep it updated.

Mm-hmm. 

Yvonne Caputo: Mm-hmm. The one thing I thought about too was the opportunity to disagree with something that the five wishes said. There was something about, you know, going into a room and somebody’s no longer speaking, you know, but they hear, so keep the conversation light and, and I said to my kids, no cry, this is.

And know that I’m crying with you and that I’m okay with your, with your tears. So there’s opportunities like that to, to refine the wishes, you know, so that your children are really, really very clear. 

Diane Hullet: That’s great. I think it’s really important for people to know that hearing is the last we, we believe hearing is the last sense to go.

But I think you’re right. There’s something disingenuous about saying, keep it light. I mean, hello, this big transformation is happening. I’m not sure that light is exactly the feeling for the moment. Be authentic with the person who’s dying. Well, Yvonne, I thank you so much for your time today. This has been just a great conversation and I think your two books are really a gift to the world in, in different ways.

And I think also you can read both of them. I read both of them back to back, but they also stand alone, and I think that’s important to know too, that Dying with Dad is a real resource about five wishes and. Conversations and, and as, as we said, you know, really a response to the questions that you got from the first book.

Like, how could you do that? What was that like? Wasn’t that difficult? And for you it was 20 minutes of grace? 

Yvonne Caputo: Absolutely. Absolutely. 

Diane Hullet: Well, thanks so much. You’ve been listening to the Best Life Best Death podcast. I’m Diane Hallett and thanks so much. See you next time.

Picture of Diane Hullet

Diane Hullet

End of Life Doula, Podcaster, and founder of Best Life Best Death.

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