Today, Friday, February 13, 2015 will be the 13th anniversary of my Mom's death. That makes it 13 on Friday the 13th. All those 13's might be a problem if I were superstitious but I'm not. I can't believe it has been that long. At some point in every day I have a thought or memory about Mom, that's over 4,700 thoughts. No, that's way too low a number because she often interjects herself into my mind multiple times a day. It is amazing how many things trigger those memories. It can be a smell, food, a picture, a phrase, a song, a TV show, a news story, something posted on Facebook or a thousand other things. I'm not complaining, almost all my memories of my Mom are pleasant. The only exceptions are those times I remember when I disappointed or hurt her which unfortunately happened more often that I wish and certainly way more times than she deserved.
A few days ago PBS had a program about end of life and how patients, family and doctors deal with that situation. It is never easy and one size certainly does not fit all. The Frontline episode is available online if you want to view it. It's called Being Mortal.
Most people of my generation have had to go through the end of life ordeal with at least our parents. There may also be siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins and close friends. I'm not talking about weird Uncle Ernie who you didn't really know or grandparents that died when you were two years old. I mean those who died after you were an adult and who you dealt with those last days.
I had two totally different experiences with my parents. Mom went first which was the worst possible scenario. She would have survived better without dad than he did without her. Mom was never the most healthy person on Earth and in the last few years she became very frail. She was never one to give in to her medical problems but eventually her will could not overcome her failing body. She got into a cycle where she would have to go to the hospital, often the intensive care unit, they would get her well enough to eventually go home. Many times they made her worse before making her better. Often there was a stay in rehab before being released and/or outpatient rehab. Wash, rinse, repeat. Mom's hospital stays were never pleasant for her or dad and me. Every cycle the hospital stays got longer and the time at home got shorter. The last time, Mom couldn't communicate very well. I'm sure she knew it was near the end. She was ready to go and I was ready too. She was in pain and not the kind of person who wanted to be bed ridden and a burden on others. She was also very comfortable with her faith. Death was not the end to her. Unfortunately dad wouldn't give up. He wanted the doctors to do everything possible to keep Mom alive. Unfortunately again, they had a doctor who was more than willing to help prolong the inevitable. I suspect money was his and his colleagues' main motivation plus my dad's inability to accept reality. Finally the doctors gave up and sent a PA to give us the news. Chickenshit on the doctors' part. Dad was angry and mostly in shock. We moved Mom to hospice and within a week or so she was gone. I had to make the final decision to pull the plug, with Mom's consent. That was not a pleasant conversation but the love and understanding look in her eyes is something I will never forget. That's about as close as you can get to someone. Excuse me a minute, I need a kleenex. Thankfully she went peacefully.
After Mom's death, dad was mostly an empty shell. He remained angry at the doctors and that Mom had left him. He was mostly angry with me too. His health too began to deteriorate and I had to make a few trips to where he lived to see him through some hospital stays and rehab. I was eventually able to convince him to move in with me where I live. He was pretty miserable those last few years and had a couple of health episodes. Eventually dad gave up completely and one evening he went to his room for a nap and died. He called out to me right before he died. I was with him near the end. I think he died between the time I went to him and when I went to get the phone to called 911. By the time the EMTs got there he was gone. No prolonged hospital, rehab or hospice stay. Just a short walk to his bedroom and he was gone.
So which way is better? Dad went quickly but it was not unexpected. I am glad that he didn't have to spend anymore time in a hospital or hospice. He was an absolute terrible patient. Mom suffered those last few weeks but I am thankful every day for the time we had together. It was both some of the best and saddest time we had together.
In the long run I think maybe they both went in the right way. Dad went quickly which spared him the misery. Mom, who was tough as nails, got some time to stay around to say goodbye to all the people who loved her, despite her discomfort and pain.
I also think that in general we pay too much attention to the quantity of life and not the quality. There are too many so called healthcare professionals willing to prolong terminal patient's lives so they can get paid for more tests, treatments, consultations and hospital stays. Many family members are unwilling or unable to admit their loved one's life is over even if there is technically a pulse.
So you see, there is no one answer for how to handle the end of life days. I would encourage all of you to take the necessary steps to be sure your family knows what your wishes are. Spell it out, get the Power of Attorney and DNR (if appropriate) documents in place. Not for you, but for the people who have to deal with your sickness and death.
Well, that was cheery. Stuff to think about but I'll try to be more humorous next time.
In closing, love and miss you Mom.