Death with Dignity
When your children attained the age wherein having “The Talk” about sex and other scary things became unavoidable, you simply jumped in and winged it – wanting to explain as much to your kids as they needed to know but trying not to lend any encouragement towards participation in said scary things. Didn’t you feel better once you checked that “To Do” item off your child-rearing list? I know I did.
“The Other Talk” is that which you need to have with your adult-sized children, regardless of how uncomfortable you – or your children – are about topics such as: illness, death, and finances. Acccckkkkk!
Or perhaps it’s the other way around. The adult children are broaching these difficult topics with their parents in the hopes that said parents will do something about these unavoidable issues. Regardless of who is on the receiving end of these discussions, they should be considered mandatory in every family.
Consider this scenario: Dad is dying of cancer and in a coma. Your mother has already passed on, and you have no idea what your dad wants. His cancer is inoperable and he’s having more and more difficulty breathing and he hasn’t had any nourishment by mouth since he went into a coma. Does he want breathing assistance? Does he want intravenous liquids and nourishment? Does he want pain medication to help him through the extreme pain that cancer causes, even if the medication hastens his death?
What’s a son or daughter to do? Wing it?
Let’s look at another scenario: Mom is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and is unconscious more than she is conscious. There is no reversal possible of the debilitating effect this disease has had on her body: her doctor tells the family that their mother’s ability to swallow is greatly compromised, her breathing is becoming more and more labored, and she has shown no interest whatsoever in food or liquids. Her body is in the active stages of dying.
In this scenario, dad is still living and cognitively competent and he has told the family and your mother’s doctor that he wants every single measure possible to be employed to keep his bride of sixty-five years alive. You, however, have a copy of your mother’s living will/advanced health care directive – as does your father – which contains conflicting wishes to those of your father. Your mother wants no extraordinary measures employed – not a respirator, not a gastric feeding tube, no intravenous nourishment, nothing except for medication that will make her as comfortable as possible as she leaves this world. When your mother was fully aware and cognitively healthy, she had her wishes incorporated into a legal document, determined to take the responsibility of making such decisions out of her loved ones’ hands.
What’s a son or daughter to do? Follow mom’s wishes.
What a gift that is – carrying out your loved one’s wishes when she is no longer able to verbalize them. It would still be a gift if mom’s wishes were clearly spelled out that she wanted everything done to keep her alive as long as possible. The point is not what was decided that is important – it’s that the decision had already been made – a decision that remained in the hands of the patient/family member.
Both of my parents gifted me and my two siblings with documented specific wishes for their life and death. My mother unexpectedly died in her sleep on September 24th, 1994 at the age of 77 – something she had wished and hoped for her entire life – who doesn’t? My father died on October 13th, 2007 at the age of 89 from complications of Alzheimer’s and cancer. There was no guessing when it came to the time when us three adult kids rushed to his bedside. He was comfortable in his death, and we honored him by following his wishes for no intervention. Did I want my dad to die? God no. I wanted him to live forever; but none of us gets to do that, so I’m glad that my father was allowed to take his last breath and leave this world his way.
The attached article, written by a blogger in the UK, is straight-forward and thought provoking – it should be.
I live in Washington state, and I am glad that Death with Dignity is a legal option assuming all the legal requirements are met. This is a very personal subject matter, as is the choice that individuals will make to seize the opportunity, or to reject the opportunity. There is definitely a separate element of this option when the law is utilized for those with dementia. When is someone still capable of making the decision?
A non-profit in my state, Compassion & Choices of Washington, is an excellent resource for materials and information. They have even developed an Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia Mental Health Directive – a first-of-its-kind directive that allows people – while still competent – to document their wishes related to who will provide their care, where care will be provided, how it will be financed, how to deal with difficult behaviors that may arise, and many other matters that both caregiver and patient face. Bless all of you who face this horrific disease that has no effective treatment, and certainly no cure.