Life or Death

She sleeps the time away, mumbling incoherently, restlessly flouncing around on her bed. Her  wrinkled hands are seldom still, blackened finger tips pull on the oxygen at her nose, often reaching into the air for something only her addled dreams can see.  The hardened and blocked arteries have compromised all her extremities to one degree or another, but the left foot is the one that is dying.

As I sit in the corner of her hospital room watching my 84-year-old mother, the ringing question of my generation circles in my brain…

Must life so often wind down this way, like an old mantel clock we’ve forgotten that gradually loses time until it finally, mercifully stops?

Her dementia began slowly enough that she was able to hide it from us.  Due to her abusive, alcoholic dad, Mom has always been paranoid and untrusting, so her secretiveness wasn’t anything that caused suspicion on our part.  However, when she confided several years ago that she had gotten lost while driving to an otherwise familiar destination, we knew we had started down the dreaded road that her older sister had walked before her.  None of us were prepared for the battles with her every, single, solitary step of the way.  Nor were we prepared for her wily sneakiness – she once bought a car months after her doctor had told her she could no longer drive and hers had been sold.  Oh, she was a crafty lady.

Mom has always been a strange mixture of fierce independence and smothering dependence, but when she began to realize that the level of independence she wanted was being taken, she fought it with everything she could muster.  The verbal volleys could be savage, but then mom had always used words like weapons…at times to wound, at other times as a defense mechanism.  My husband, brother and I developed harder shells and went about taking care of her and her growing needs.  My husband and I became her parents, something no one wants ever.

Sadly, mom was never settled after dad died fourteen years ago.  As much as she complained about him, he was her anchor.  She moved four times in as many years after he was gone.  Unfortunately, a few years later we had to begin moving her – each time to a facility that offered a little more care and less independence.  The last stop-the dreaded nursing home – was 11 months ago after she fell and hit her head during the night, causing a brain bleed, exacerbating the dementia even more.  The doctors and social worker recommended it due to her mental and physical condition…but the questioning of that decision returns every time I walk the hall to her room.

A couple of months after the initial rehabilitation ended, mom stopped using her walker and opted for the wheelchair.  No amount of cajoling or scolding could encourage her to cooperate with additional rehab or participate in group activities.  She didn’t like “those people” and all they did was “gossip.”  Mom has always been a loner and a reader, so I spent a small fortune in books trying to keep her stocked up, her mind occupied – until 3 or 4 months ago when it became apparent that she could no longer remember what she was reading.  Of course, she didn’t admit that; she would either say that the book was boring or that she didn’t feel like reading.

When the realization washed over me that mom could no longer grasp the content of her books, well, let’s just say that was a very difficult day.

From early childhood, that woman taught me to love books and learning.  Like most others in my era, when I was a child our family had one car.  Mom, who at the time did not have a high school education, was determined we would enjoy books, so on a regular basis, she cleaned us up and loaded my brother and I onto a bus to take us to the public library.  My brother and I have both reaped the benefits of those long ago library visits; we can lose ourselves in books, going anywhere, learning anything we want.

At some point later, mom studied for her GED and later accrued college credit while working in the banking industry. Not much stopped her from attaining her goals; for good or for ill, that was one determined woman.  Even with dementia, she is determined to do what she wants to do!  I learned a lot about tenacity from her…

And now, I’ve been tasked to make the life or death decision for this woman who is my mother.  This woman whom I remember as beautiful, vivacious, but broken and mentally fragile all of my life.  Yet, I recognize that she loved me with all she had to give.

I have made the decision because I’ve been taught to be decisive in these situations, but I didn’t want to be the one to do so.  Of course, I sought my husband’s and brother’s advice, and certainly prayed for wisdom…

She needs a bypass surgery that she may not survive, but the stint the doctor tried yesterday was unsuccessful.  Poor lady inherited a terrible vascular system.  If something isn’t done, she will lose her left leg…a surgery that is equally, potentially fatal for her…or she will get sepsis and die more slowly.  If I can choose, I would not want that end for her.  However she dies, this mother of mine, I pray she will close her eyes and awaken in the arms of God, no more paranoia, no more suffering or pain.

…Only peace and fully felt love.




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