Life’s Tough Decisions


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?

 

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8 thoughts on “Life’s Tough Decisions

  1. I know a lot of people faced with aging parents and very grim decisions! My parents died when they were relatively young so I have never faced the decisions you need to make in your scenerio. For me and Steve we have discussed it at length and with my sons also. Death is part of living and shouldn’t be ignored.

    Nice blog, Briar! I need to spend some time on my wp blog to tweak it. If I can’t figure it out can I email you. It needs to be as user friendly as possible so my people can comment with questions if they wish.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Death and dying are not fun topics, but not something that can be ignored forever. Sooner or later it’s going to get in all our faces. Best to be like good boy scouts and Be Prepared as much as one can be.

    When you’re ready to do some tweaking, try this first:
    From your blog, go to the drop-down menu in the upper left corner, pick Dashboard. At the bottom of the left sidebar, click on Settings. If you go through all the items in that sub-menu, that will take you a long way toward where you want to go.

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  3. Tough stuff. It’s like life has been one long learning experiences full of tests and this is the killer final exam. It seems our experiences never quite prepare us for this. Yes, I have done the living will and power of attorney thing. Yes my mom has discuss her plans with me. Dad and step mom prefer to avoid the issue. No matter what there will be guilt and second guessing. Even with the cleanest plans made.

    The above scenario you wrote about is heart wrenching. How does someone get through that test? Everything about it more or less ends in sorrow or guilt when they pass and part of you is relieved. Ugh.

    We can only do what we can do with the emotional resources we have. And that is a crappy answer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Life can certainly be heart wrenching at times, can’t it? And you are so right in saying that no matter what, there will be guilt and second guessing. When my first husband died at home, I did that whole guilt about feeling relieved thing. Even after all these years, I still fall into the guilt trap occasionally, despite the logical side of me that knows I did the very best I could and then some.

      Your answer is not a crappy answer. It’s a good one, with a good reminder that we are all imperfect and we can only do what we can with what we have. And I imagine you have thought about this unpleasant end-of-life stuff more than a lot of people have. None of it is easy, is it?

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  4. Briar, I’m glad I found your WP. I am going through something very similar to this right now, but it’s too laborious for me to type on this iPad. When I get back on the computer, I have a contribution to make!! Now I just need to remember.

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  5. OK – I’m back, and I apologize up front if I go on too long. But if I can make just one person take action, then it will all be worthwhile. As you recognized, Briar, this has been a difficult year. My nephew took his own life on January 2nd. At the same time, we were dealing with my brother in the hospital who had suffered from a stoke (admitted him January 1st). Unfortunately, while in the hospital, he suffered another stroke. There was no guarantee that he would survive to have the semblance of the life he once had, so the family made the difficult decision to put him in hospice care. Before I say another word, just let me say that hospice care is the best thing ever. They take so much of the stress away and honor your wishes. It was a wonderful, sad, experience. My brother passed on January 5th at the age of 62. The family was reeling with 2 recent deaths in the family. It was a very difficult time, to say the least. My nephew, my youngest brother’s son, was a sad, sad event. It was tragic. He was only 24. So much life left to live, yet obviously, he was in enough pain, most likely emotionally, to want to end it. Just tragic. I think if he knew how much pain his death would have caused to his parents, family and friends, he never would have done it. But I have enough experience with suicides to know that a person that is in that much pain can only think about ending it.

    My brother’s stroke came out of left field; until I learned more about his health. He has had rheumatoid arthritis for a number of years already. He would have good days and bad days. He lived next door to me. I won’t go on too much about how it all occurred except to say that I learned, while he was in the hospital, that he also had untreated high blood pressure. My brother lived alone, was married a long time ago, but divorced and no children. He was kind of a loner, but enjoyed doing karaoke, belonged to the Lion’s Club and did website design and maintenance.
    He also didn’t take care of anything. No health insurance, no will, no trust. Thankfully he left me as a beneficiary on some financial things he had, but not everything. We are currently in probate in regards to his assets, and it will be sometime before all that is resolved. So, here is the clincher there. I have 2 more brothers. I want to share the money my brother left me with my other brothers, because that is the right thing to do. But it’s becoming quite the pain. If my brother had left all 3 of us as beneficiaries, there would be no problem. So think that through carefully. We are a close family, and I don’t think my brother meant to leave only ME as a beneficiary because we were any closer than the other siblings, I think he just didn’t think it through. His financial adviser told me he had a difficult time getting him to list anyone.

    In the meantime, my mom has had a roller coaster ride with trips to the ER, hospital stays and doctors visits. We’ve believed, from the beginning, that what has occurred has affected her greatly. She was experiencing a lot of anxiety and depression. My mom is a very strong woman. I guess I should say she was. This really took a toll on her. It would anyone, but she is 86, lived alone and has macular degeneration. She gave up driving about 4-5 years ago because of her deteriorating sight, and I’ve pretty much been her primary care provider in the sense that I drive her to doctors, shopping, etc., and pay all her bills. She did still play bridge, and Upwards and rode her tricycle 2 miles a day up until all this happened.

    After one release from the hospital, she went into a skilled nursing facility because she just didn’t feel good enough to go home. Keep in mind that all health tests done on her showed nothing was wrong. She decided from there, to not return home. The skilled nursing facility where she was also has an assisted living section, so that is where she is today. No more tricycle, barely plays bridge or Upwards, but we are hoping that as things calm down and she gets stronger, those things will return.

    So why am I writing all this? Well, for one, its therapeutic, and for another, it spurred us on to take care of all those things you mentioned above so our own children would NEVER have to go through what we are going through with my brother’s estate – as small as it is.
    We have had the talk about what we want for our end of life, but we have never put it in writing. My husband and I both now have Advanced Health Care Directives, printed, saved on the computer, given to children and health care provider.
    We also have a Living Trust made up. We also made sure that ALL financial matters we have (IRA, Retirement accounts), now have the correct beneficiaries listed. We are leaving nothing to chance. My brother was a definite wake up call that anything can happen.

    Another thing this has made us do is go through soooooo many papers and things saved. My brother saved WAY TOO MUCH PAPER. He had taxes back to 1982. You only need the last 7 years. We’ve had to go through every piece of paper to see if it needs shredding or not because of Social Security #s. We have taken to the recycling center 6-13 gallon trash bags filled with shredded paper. All those cute knick/knacks that collect dust on your shelf, but really have no meaning? – get rid of them, because that’s what we did. I’m not talking about valuables that have a connection for you, but those little things that instead of deciding if you really want it or not, you just toss in a drawer because you don’t want to make a decision right then.

    We also had to sell my mom’s place, and we’re going through the same thing with everything that she saved. She was a big traveler. Loved traveling by car most the time. She had a full drawer in her filing cabinet of old maps and brochures of places she visited. Now, I can understand keeping all that to reflect back on, but my mom hasn’t been able to see real well for a few years now. So we tossed it all. Some things have been very hard to go through, some not so bad. Those maps and brochures had great meaning for her when she traveled, but hold no meaning for any of her kids.

    So, it’s been a rather rough beginning of the year. I have learned a lot. I’ve learned to take one day at a time, evaluate my health (did spur me to the doctor to have a check up since it’s been 8 years, but I’m still good =), and love each and every day that we are given. Minimize, take care of all those ‘uncomfortable’ discussions you need to have, because some day, someone in your family will be thankful you did. We are even going to pay for our cremation now so our kids don’t have to worry about it. If that had all been done by my brother, I would have experienced a LOT less stress. Just loosing him was stressful enough. And because we are still in probate with his assets (probably until October), we have a long way to go.

    The scenario you describe above sounds heartbreaking. I have a friend at work that is going through something pretty similar. She always thought her mom would go first, as she has had the most health issues, yet recently her father took a turn for the worse. You just never know.

    Sorry I took up so much space. I hope I opened at least a few eyes!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Karen, please don’t apologize for taking up space! For one thing, it is therapeutic. And for another, maybe it will serve as a wake-up call to somebody else when they read it.

    So many young people think such preparations don’t apply to them. But sometimes shit happens. Drunk drivers happen. Fatal illness happens. There was a healthy young woman in the Seattle area who died of complications from having her tonsils out. Even people who don’t think they own anything worth bothering with should at least have a health care directive and a will.

    As to your own situation, I can’t begin to imagine what it is like to deal with the untimely death of two loved ones in such a short time. And, though your mother is still alive, she is fading. And I know how heartbreaking that is. Your emotions must be ragged, stress levels high, yet you are having to settle and finalize a lot of things for your mother now. I know, too, that you are finding out just how very much you are capable of.

    One thing that may be saving you from a nervous breakdown is your regular exercise routine. Getting the heart pumping, breaking a sweat, being outdoors and moving — all those things put good endorphines into you and recharge your batteries, so to speak.

    Be strong, Karen, but don’t make the mistake of thinking you are invincible. Now, more than ever, it is vital that you take good care of yourself so you can continue to be there for your mother.

    And thanks so much for sharing and, hopefully, motivating someone to do what needs doing before it’s too late.

    Take care, dear one!

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