On Sunday I condemned my mother to death

Chalice Well

Chalice Well (Photo credit: greenchartreuse)

Yesterday was challenging – no doubt about it.

Woke up on a (finally) sunny and not too cold spring Sunday and was planning a leisurely stroll to the beautiful Chalice Well Gardens here in Glastonbury.

At 9am my mother’s nursing home phoned: would I get down there immediately, please?  Things were bad.

My mum is 91 and has advanced dementia.  She barely eats, she barely wakes up for more than a few minutes at a time and if she gives a smile of recognition once a month I count myself lucky.  She is lifted around in a hoist from bed to shower to chair and is reliant on the wonderful staff at her home for every bodily need.  She has had numerous ‘near misses’.  I’ve lost count of the number of times doctors have told me to brace myself and prepare for the end, but here we were again.

I arrived in her room to find it bursting with paramedics and equipment.  Mum was fully conscious, with wild, staring eyes.  An oxygen mask was clamped to her face.  She was waving her hand about – apparently trying to shake off the probe or whatever it was attached to a finger.

“She has a chest infection,” one of the ambulance staff explained.  “Her oxygen intake is very low and falling.  She needs to be in hospital and on oxygen if we are to save her, but it’s up to you.  If you’d rather we left her here and let nature take its course we’ll respect your decision.”

Great.  9.15 on a Sunday morning and I was being asked to play God with my mother’s life.  The medics were, understandably, in a hurry.  They needed an instant response.

I fought my way through the forest of pipes and tanks and plastic stuff littering the way and stood with my mum.  Her eyes were still darting about.  She looked petrified.  I remembered the other times I’d been to see her in hospital over the past few years – turned into a human pincushion with drips and masks and whatever, surrounded by strangers.  I imagined the 45 minute journey by ambulance with sirens wailing to the nearest hospital.

Words from Conversations With God rang in my ears: “What would Love do now?”

“No,” I said.  “I’d like her to stay here.”

They nodded.  The mask, the oxygen tank and other equipment were whisked away.  The medics’ final comment was that she probably had less than two hours to live, so I decided to spend those two hours well.

I held her hand, stood where she could see my face and I talked.  I started with our life together – all 62 years of it.  I described the holidays we’d had, the houses we’d lived in, the gardens she’d created.  She was still conscious, still listening after all that, so I went on to talk about her own childhood, her friends, her marriage and anything else that came to mind.

Finally a locum GP arrived.  He said she’d stabilised but quite possibly wouldn’t recover.  He didn’t give a timescale.  He put into place a raft of palliative care that covered every eventuality and would ensure that she suffered minimum distress.

I left her sleeping peacefully several hours later.

Well what would you have done?

At times like this – times when we’re dealing with the very toughest choices and challenges – it can be easy to forget that life is a game designed to expand the universe.  I’m very lucky to have wonderful reminders all around me.

This is one: a post from the excellent Ask The Council blog that magically appeared in my inbox this morning.
Roller Coaster "Python" Theme Park E...Here is another: a post I wrote at the end of last year, dealing with the same question.  It contains the guidance I was ‘given’ when someone else asked me why life is so horribly tough.

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5 comments on “On Sunday I condemned my mother to death

  1. Jan,
    Thanks for sharing these moments with your mum. Reminds me a little of my father’s passing a couple years ago. Glad you found the recent guidance from The Council helpful.
    Bob

    • Thank you, Bob.
      I look forward to Mum being at peace, when she can finally let go, but continue to talk to her and hope she feels the love, even if she can’t grasp the words. x

  2. There is a saying of do unto others what you would expect done to you, therein is the answer to many questions. If I were moving to dementia I would kill myself whilst I had the choice to make it, thus my answer is to determine how the individual wishes to live their life after their choice is gone by asking them in advance, or by default to let nature take its course so that the person dies with dignity and less suffering.

    • So would I, Alex, but my mother’s generation, having lived through the war and the great depression, saw it as a point of honour to fight death off for as long as possible. We did ask her, years ago, but got no clear answer. She fought on for four long days this time but finally gave way.

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