Making the Tough Decisions

She was 87 years of age and her pacemaker battery was dying. The problem was so was she.

My mother developed Alzheimer’s at the age of 80 and by age 82, she was living in one of my assisted living communities. She had both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.  They took the normal downward linear path on her health. She lost weight, she forgot all her family, and she could not walk any longer.

Then at what most would consider end of life, her pacemaker battery was going out. ‘Well,’ I said to myself, ‘maybe this is a peaceful way for mom to die.’ I had too often seen the effects Alzheimer’s has on a person at the end of life. They are not able to swallow food and the brain forgets even how to tell your lungs to breathe. It is a horrible death. ‘So maybe this was divine intervention,’ I thought. ‘Mom would simply pass away in her sleep as her heart slowing stopped beating.’

I informed my two sisters of the battery dilemma and told them that it was maybe time to get ready for Mom to pass. We all got together to discuss what should be done.

My oldest sister said, “We have to have the surgery and get mom a new battery.” What a ridiculous suggestion, I thought to myself. Then I added, “Why on earth would we put an 87 year old woman who has late stage dementia through the torment and stress of surgery when she is going to die soon anyway?” The answer came swiftly and simply from my sister, “Because mom asked us to do everything possible to keep her alive even if it meant living on life support.”

Well yes, that is what mom had always said, she was terrified of dying and made mention of this several times. But could she have predicted this horrible ending? Wasn’t it our jobs as her kids to interpret those last few days and make a judgment call in the name of loving her? All three siblings huddled and decided, though we didn’t agree with doing the surgery; it wasn’t up to us, it was up to Mom.

In August of 2010, Mom had her battery replaced and had a successful surgery. In October of 2010, she died a horrific death unable to breath and her weight loss made her look like a skeleton. Did we make the right decision? I don’t know. Did we honor Mom’s decision? I think so, but it didn’t feel good – no matter what we decided.

As you get older, please sit all of your kids down and tell them what you really want. Better yet, put down specific instructions in writing of what you want.

We did the best for our mom that we could do, hopefully you will too.


One Comment

  1. Doreen
    Posted May 14, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    My mother died from complications of dementia last July. She died at the age of 84. She started showing signs of dementia around 81. Her own mother had died of dementia. We never talked seriously about what she wanted if she got dementia. That was a huge mistake because when the time came to make decisions my brother and I were on our own. She became very distrustful of everyone and it became very difficult to help her. When we eventually had to put her in a Alzheimer’s/dementia facility it was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. She would cry every time I left and promise “to be good and do everything I wanted” if I would take her home with me. Eventually she did adjust to her new home but it was very hard. I will have a conversation with my children so they will not have to face the guilt my brother and I had to face. I really feel that the medical community has made great strides medically but because of that the body sometimes outlives the brain. Dementia and Alzheimer’s is such a sad sad ending to someones life.

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