• It's eleven-thirty June 28th and I'm holding my mother's hand as the ER doctor sutures her head. She's split open from forehead to back, down to her skull. She's frightened. She doesn't remember the fall or the ambulance ride. She doesn't remember any of our other trips to the emergency room, either.


    Mom's got dementia and cancer. I worry that she will die a slow and painful death. But she could still have another year - maybe - of semi-decent quality life.

    This time, after I get her back to the nursing home and go home and try to sleep, I think again. Is this it? What if she has seizures? Goes into a coma? Gets seriously infected? If any of those things happen, could I save her from a worse death by allowing her to die, rather than save her now for a slow death down-the-road?

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    There have been so many times my family has had to think these issues through. With my aunt, my uncle, my father-in-law. All dead now. All of their deaths happened naturally, and no extreme decisions had to be made, but in all cases, we knew hard decisions were possible.


    Then there's my mother-in-law. Were we right to allow powerful antibiotics to bring her out of a killer pneumonia? Pneumonia used to be called an old person's friend. Now, Alice is alive, but her quality of life never recovered. She's pretty much just exists. Was that the right thing to do?


    Once more, I'm thinking about Mom. Am I playing God if I tell them to bring her out of dangerous infection, only to let her rot from cancer? Or am I playing God by saying I'd rather she went now than suffer her inevitable fate? All I care about is that she not suffer any more than necessary.


    When do I Let My Mother Die?


    I pray I don't have to make that choice. It seems like a no-brainer - not to drag out a miserable life. Easy to say. Hard to do. This is my Mom.


    Fortunately - or not - I really don't know - she is coming out of this. Her mind is a bit more scrambled, but no life or death decision to be made. This time.


    We've discussed the subject a million times, Mom and I. She has a living will. I'm power of attorney. I know she doesn't want to linger. I should be prepared. But the moment. That right moment. When is it? How will I know?


    Obviously, I'm not asking for an answer. No one can really give me one. But I'm telling you this. Think to yourself. When do I let my mother die? Or father? Or spouse? Find out what they would want. Know their hearts. Make living wills. Get a Durable Power of Attorney for health care drawn up by an attorney.


    Do all you can to prepare, even though no preparation will ever be enough. Call on your spiritual strength.You'll need every ounce of faith you can muster.


    Because someday, I'm sorry to say, you, too, may be thinking, "When do I let my mother die?"


    To learn more about Carol, please go to http://www.mindingourelders.com/ or http://www.mindingoureldersblogs.com/.

Published On: April 16, 2007