A little over two weeks ago, I signed the Do Not Resuscitate papers for my mom. I bawled as I did it. I was giving permission for the hospital to let her die. Letting go doesn’t get any more official than that.
It absolutely broke my heart to do that. Even though I knew that it was the right thing to do — even though I knew that’s what my mom wanted, it was almost unbearable.
So, I can’t imagine how hard it would be if I didn’t know her wishes. I can’t imagine the pain that would come from having to make that decision and wondering if it was the right decision. You either sign it and wonder if you shouldn’t have or don’t sign it and potentially cause further suffering.
That wasn’t the only difficult part of my mom dying, either. Once she was moved to hospice care, I had to make the decision to not place a feeding tube. She hadn’t eaten in two days and I had the choice to place a tube or let death run its course.
The only potential silver lining in my mom’s last day is that we had this difficult discussion just a few months prior. After leaving her first oncology appointment where she was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic colon cancer, we sat down at O’Charleys and proceeded with the tear-filled conversation that her doctor instructed us to have.
“You need to go ahead and talk about your end of life wishes now, so that she doesn’t have the burden of wondering what you want in an already difficult time.”
End of life wishes. That was an eloquent way to say, how do you want to die? My mom and I talked about DNR. She told me that she had watched her sister fight cancer for over a year until she was barely 90 pounds and that she didn’t want that. She didn’t want to prolong the inevitable, and I’m so glad that she told me that, because that’s exactly the decision that I had to make.
At the point I signed the paper, my mom was mostly delirious. She was hallucinating and not making any sense when she talked. She was no longer capable of communicating that she was in pain. Her liver was shutting down. She wasn’t eating. She was dying. And I had the option to prolong her dying process or let it happen naturally.
For me, it was an obvious decision to make. It was still hard, but I never had a doubt in my mind about signing that DNR. I prayed for a miracle but I also knew that God’s definition of a miracle and mine were not currently aligned. My mom was dying and whether I allowed them to place a feeding tube or resuscitate her, she was still going to die. In my heart, I knew that.
Even though my mom and I had what we thought was a thorough conversation about it, there were a lot of things that we didn’t talk about, simply because we didn’t know. I knew my mom wanted to be resuscitated if she was otherwise healthy, and that she did not want to be if she was not. I knew that she had a will. But I never knew that I would have to decide on a feeding tube or fluids. I didn’t know where her will was located. I didn’t know her funeral wishes. Did she want to be buried or cremated? Where did she want to be buried, if she did?
So, I want to encourage you to have the conversation now. Talk to your parents, siblings, etc. now. I don’t care if they’re only 50 years old and in perfect health — so was my mom.
I know that it’s grim. I know that it’s depressing. I know that you don’t want to have the conversation, but you’ll be thankful that you did.
And it’s not just for your parents and loved ones, but for you. What do you want? Do your family members know?
Give them the blessing of knowing your wishes so that they have one less burden to carry while they’re grieving.
Call up your parents and say, hey, I just read an article on Facebook and want to ask you a few questions. And just get it over with.
Do it now so that when you’re already completely broken and overwhelmed, you don’t have to think or worry simultaneously. You’ll know what they want. You’ll have peace with your decisions and you can move on quickly from that aspect of their death.
A simple search of Advance Health Care Directives will give you an idea of what you need to ask/tell/think about. A great list is here on the Everplans website.
Death is inevitable. And it will be devastating regardless. But because I knew my mom’s wishes, I’m simply grieving her death. I’m not in anguish over any medical decisions that I made, because they weren’t mine to make. I knew what she wanted and while the cancer took her away before she was ready, I was able to give her the gift of, at least, controlling what those last days looked like.