Letting Go of My Mom and the Do Not Resuscitate Order

Jacqueline Marcell Health Guide
  • A dear friend of mine, Katie, has been struggling with the care of her 90-year-old mother, Faye. Katie has struggled with her mom's Alzheimer's for a decade, managed many stints in the hospital due to falls, infections, and numerous medical problems. Every time I have spoken to Faye, she tells us how tired of it all she is and how much she prays to go to sleep and pass on to be with her husband who died thirty years ago.

    A while back, I suggested Katie talk to her mother and get a DNR "Do Not Resuscitate" order in place, so extraordinary measures would not be taken to prolong her life. But now that Faye is really dying, Katie is having the hardest time and doesn't want to let her go. Instead of not interfering with the dying process, everything is being done to save Faye's life.

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    I understand how difficult it is, because I went through the same thing with my own mother just eight months after my father's passing. She was in stage two Alzheimer's and would tell me daily how much she wanted to go be with Dad, and how tired she was of being sick.

    To cheer her up, I sent her and her wonderful live-in caregiver "Amazing Ariana" and Ariana's boyfriend and grandmother on everyone's first cruise (which my mother had always wanted to take). The cruise was to Hawaii. They took such good care of her on the ship, and it sounded like she really had a ball. Richard Simmons was on board and was so kind to her, always greeting her with a kiss on the cheek and stopping to chat. They said her dementia was very minimal the whole time and she was much clearer than usual, always asking which island they were on now.

    They played Bingo every day, gambled, saw all the shows, and ate wonderful meals. Mom loved the hollowed-out pineapple she ordered her Maitais in, and then Ariana had to whisper to the waitress, "Virgin Maitai, please!" They rented a special wheelchair to take her on the beach through the sand to a Luau, where Ariana bought a straw hat she loved, woven just for her.

    Mom loved the Fern Grotto and the Island of Kiribati, even wheeling her around shopping for some new outfits and Hawaiian jewelry. I had Ariana buy pooka shell necklaces for everyone at Mom's Day Care. They took lots of pictures and videos so I could see her having fun and enjoying herself, always blowing me kisses and saying she loves me "so much."

    Right after the Norwegian Star docked, I spoke to Mom and she sounded so happy. She went on and on about the "wonderful time" they'd had. I had Ariana rent a convertible so they could see Oahu and go to the Pearl Harbor Tour, which Mom had always wanted to do too. When Ariana asked if she preferred the top up or down, Mom said, "Well, down of course!"

    She was in the front seat in her new Hawaiian outfit and straw hat, had just eaten her favorite cheeseburger for lunch, when they stopped in front of Hawaiian Airlines to unload their bags. Ariana said, "Well Mariel, are you ready to go home now?" She looked at Ariana and sadly shook her head, and then said softly, "no." Then she just quietly slumped over in her seat.

  • Ariana frantically dialed 911 and then immediately phoned me in California, screaming, "Jackie, Jackie, Mom just passed out here, right in front of the airport! I called 911 and the ambulance is arriving right this second. The DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order is packed in her suitcase. Oh God, what should I do? What should I do?! Should I have them try to revive her--or should I tell them to let her go? Oh God, Oh God--Mariel, Mariel, please wake up! Please, please wake up!!"

    Even with all my vast knowledge about this issue, lecturing nationwide and knowing my mothers very strong wishes, without any hesitation whatsoever I said: "Yes, revive her! Please tell them to revive her!" I could hear the sirens, numerous paramedics frantically working on my precious mother, Ariana crying, and it was like I was right there--seeing my mother on the hard concrete having her frail body shocked again and again, "clear!"-- as they tried so hard to bring her back from where she so desperately wanted to go.

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    Within a couple minutes I came back to my senses and was furious with myself. I just couldn't believe what I had said. Even with all I know, I had been unable to give the ultimate order. Why, why, why didn't I just let her go? What if she is going to be in a coma or paralyzed with a stroke, or trapped in more horror and maybe even torturous pain? What if I've prolonged her suffering! Oh God, what did I do? What did I do! Stupid, stupid! We should have rehearsed this scenario, over and over, so I would have been prepared and able to actually go through with it and given the order when it happened. Oh Mom, oh Mom, I am so sorry--I am so very sorry.

    Ariana rode in the ambulance with her to the hospital and stayed with her all night, talking with me continuously, as we hoped Mom would just wake up so we could take her off life support. It was a torturous night without sleep and then the next day the doctor called again and compassionately said softly, "It would be the kindest thing if we remove the breathing apparatus and let your mother go peacefully--she's really ready to go, Jacqueline."

    I was filled with so much sorrow, my heart was shattering, but yes, I knew it was the right thing to do. We set the time, Ariana and I told her how much we loved her in case she could hear us, and then I listened as she took her last breath. Then there was only the sound of Ariana's and my endless tears. It was the hardest day of my entire life.

    I am certain that having the cruise to look forward to kept her going for many months--and may we all be so lucky to have such wonderful last weeks of our lives. I am so grateful I didn't wait to send her but sorry I get sea sick so easily that I was unable to be with her.

    Most of Mom's Day Care staff came to her funeral and completely shocked me when they said my mother told them all daily: "I'm going on my cruise to Hawaii, but I won't be back, because after that I'm going to go be with my husband."

    I am so thankful that my own deep needs to hold on to her and keep her here were not successful--because she was so ready to go, and apparently she picked her time--to the minute.


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    You can learn more about Jacqueline and find information about her book at ElderRage.com.


Published On: July 09, 2007