I don’t mean to be depressing here, but I do mean to provoke some thought about a subject that too many people don’t want to think about until it is too late.
Growing old is probably the hardest thing you will ever do. During the process, you start to wonder how many more good years do you have to look forward to? For that matter, how many more years do you have? And how do you want to go out, assuming you have any choice in the matter? Then, too, if your parents are still around, you wonder what their decline and passing will be like, and whether you be called upon to make one of the toughest decisions of your life.
Nobody likes to think about dying, but it is something that should be thought about. And discussed ahead of time with loved ones. What if something happens to you and your mind is no longer clear? Will anyone listen to you then if you ask for no medical intervention? Or will they decide what they think is best for you because they think you don’t know what you are asking?
If you are lucky, your parents will have discussed their end-of-life wishes with you. They will have decided in advance what sort of life might or might not be worth living. They will have completed and notarized Living Wills, with copies distributed to the doctor and local hospital and, most importantly, to you. If they have really prepared, they will also have designated someone to have a Power of Attorney for Health Care for situations where they might not be able to made tough decisions for themselves..
Don’t think this advice only applies to your parents. Accidents happen. What if something happened to you? Regardless of your age, do you have a Living Will? Have you discussed your wishes with your parents or siblings or children?
Imagine this scenario, if you will…
You are the son (or daughter) of aging parents. They have been married for 68 years and they are 88 years old. Your dad has early stage Alzheimers. Your mom is frail. Recently, they sold the condo where they had lived for the past 20 years and moved into an assisted living facility.
Prior to the move, your dad was going downhill fast and it seemed he wouldn’t live much longer. Since the move, however, he has become involved in exercise classes, bingo, and even Trivial Pursuit. It’s like he has gotten his second wind and is getting some enjoyment out of life again. Except for one thing — he is worried about his wife.
She misses her friends at the condos. While still at the condo, she had lost weight steadily, grown weaker, and had fallen many times. In one of those falls, she cracked her sacrum, and at her age it will never entirely heal. Depressed, her decline continued until the administrator at the assisted living facility forced her to go to a nursing home. She has no appetite nor any desire to work with the therapists who are trying to get her out of bed, back on her feet, and able to return to her husband in the assisted living facility. She persists in saying that she just wants to die. To make matters worse, her mental faculties are now a sometime thing.
This evening, your dad calls to tell you about a call he just finished with your mom. She cussed him out for being so mean to her, for only spending three hours with her on Sunday, for not caring about her at all. You have never heard your dad cry like that. It’s like being kicked in the gut, it hurts so bad.
Even though it’s your dad who has Alzheimers, it is your mom who can’t remember who you are half the time or when she last talked to you. But how do you console your dad that it wasn’t really the woman he loves who was talking to him like that? Or would that sort of talk only hurt your dad even more?
Worse, your dad knows his mind isn’t what it once was and he is looking to you for advice and support. Should he order the nursing home to force her to eat and do her physical therapy? Or should he give orders to honor the wishes she keeps repeating, to let her stop eating and die? At her age, Nature might take its course before any decision is made. Or she might live another ten years. And if she does, what happens to her quality of life? And what happens to your dad’s quality of life as he worries about hers?
When your parents were younger and healthier, they refused to discuss end-of-life matters with you. When you asked, they always responded with words like, “It’s all taken care of. Don’t worry about it.” Now, you know it wasn’t all taken care of. They might have discussed plans and wishes with each other, but they never shared them with you or your sister.
Now, it seems there is no good advice you can give your dad. How can you tell him to let his wife of 68 years die? How can you tell him to ignore her repeated requests? No matter what advice you give or don’t give, you are going to wonder if you did the right thing and will probably feel guilty about it for years to come.
Step back from this scenario now. Back to you, here and now. Is there someone you should have a discussion with? Soon? Before you find yourself living something like this no-win scenario?