Hopefully, you will never have to answer this question for the life or death of a loved one. My siblings and I had to answer the question for our Mother. It falls somewhere in between pulling the plug and Dr. Kevorkian’s assisted suicide. I can assure you that you will never know what you would actually do – until you have to do it. I used to be critical about the practices of Dr. Kevorkian until I had to make almost the same decision for my Mother – but do it legally. In the realm of life, pain and compassion – what is the difference though?
Every family faces a unique set of circumstances and criteria for making this kind of decision. Fortunately, my Mother had a living will, so we did not have to pull the plug or fight any legal battles to have the plug pulled. We did have to consider whether or not they should continue with life-sustaining medications and possible life-saving surgery.
At her 88 years of age, and a slim chance of making it through a major surgery with any quality of life afterwards, were we not in effect making a decision to pull the plug on our Mother? After all, miracles have happened. Should we believe the doctors or believe in our faith in God to sustain her life? What happens when you are faced with this decision?
I was stunned when the doctors asked our family, “Would you like to order comfort care only for your Mother?” We all looked at each other as if there is no possible way we could answer that question. Then, we realized we had to answer the question and looked at each other as if to say, “you answer that question – there is no way I’m having that decision on my conscience.” When the doctors realize you are in a stunned state of mind, they politely say, “Well, talk it over and let us know what you decide.
There is some time before you need to answer that question.” For two seconds, you breath a sigh of relief – like the question actually went away and you no longer have to answer it. Then the doctors leave the room, and the anxiety really kicks in. We prayed.
After a minute, everyone asks everyone else what he or she thinks. Nobody really wants to blurt out an answer unless someone else does it first. The initial thoughts and discussion are basically medical recaps of what the doctors have said are the alternatives. Then, you begin discussing what the loved one would have wanted. All along, you are still hoping for some miracle that allows you to never have to answer the question at all. We called the church bishop to come meet with us.
As with all decision-making processes, the deep discussion phase involves different personalities, beliefs, and knowledge levels. My brother has a medical background, I have a business background, and my sister is a very sentimental, compassionate type. We are all spiritual siblings, but none of us actually attend church every week. We all believe in God, as did our Mother.
We all approached our answer to the question in those exact ways. My brother’s discussions were centered around confirmation about the doctors’ medical evaluations. My discussion was centered around what makes the most sense considering all the options, and my sister just wanted to cry, do whatever we had to do for our Mother to live, and hope for miracles. We asked the doctors more questions.
Feelings of Guilt
We asked each other – is this like we are playing God? Are we killing our Mother? Are we assisting in her suicide since we knew that she did not want life support? What if the doctors are wrong? What if there is a miracle? Do we all have to agree on the same answer? What happens if we don’t all agree? What would Mother want – and even so, can we actually do this? Is this breaking one of the Ten Commandments? We decided to sleep on it and see how she was doing in the morning.
Despite all our efforts to procrastinate, our Mother had not improved by the next day and the doctors needed an answer. Based on many medical, spiritual, and personal factors and hours of discussion, we decided to order comfort care only. We knew Mother no longer wanted to live in a life of pain and illness. We knew she wanted to cross over to the other side where she felt eternity was going to be a much better place. We prayed and asked God to go ahead and take Mother quickly and painlessly. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life. I finally whispered in mother’s ear before she died, to please understand our decision and know that we hoped it was the best decision. I think she heard us. I think she knew.
The doctors told us it could take anywhere from a couple hours to a couple days for Mother to pass. Given the stubborn nature of our Mother, of course it took almost three days for her to take her last breath. In the meantime, our emotions turned from guilt and confusion to peace and comfort for each other. We never actually questioned whether we had done the right thing during these three days.
We each were probably thinking that though. Instead, we stayed huddled around our Mother’s bed and told stories about her life and talked about good memories. At one point, in an effort to cope, I even joked about her waiting so long to pass because the wrong husband probably came down to get her and she said, “no way am I going with you.” I joked that she was probably waiting for her third husband to come down and get her.
The Years After
It has been one year since my Mother’s passing and while I don’t deeply mourn, I will always ask myself, “did we make the right decision?” I don’t deeply mourn because I know my Mother was ready to pass. I do miss her – don’t get me wrong. I try to put out the flames in my burning heart by saying this is what she wanted – but did we not give our faith the right chance? Should we have prayed for miracles?
Will God judge us for this decision? Was it breaking one of the Ten Commandments? We will spend the rest of our days beating up ourselves over this – quietly and privately. We have never talked about this since the Decision Day. I just wish those doctors had never asked us, “Would you like to order comfort care only for your Mother?” My conscience will never be the same again.
I just realized that it is really crucial to choose the right doctor who knows how to deal with patients just like my mother. A doctor with o1 visa Clinician is really crucial as it shows how experienced he or she is as a professional.
Just so my daughter knows: if I am 88 and have little chance for a good quality of life, please do the same for me. I will understand and that is what I will want.