Years before, when she had her first mini-strokes, she had filled out a “living will”, which she reiterated down through the later years, requiring her not to be given “extraordinary means” for resucitation if she suffered a major stroke or other brain damage. She loathed the suffering that people she knew had seemed to go through, hooked up to machines that kept blood flowing and breath pumping, but without the possibility of the release of death. She wanted none of that, and made sure her kids knew it. So, one day in December, a couple of days after her stroke, her doctor told us the results of her CAT scan, which showed major damage at the base of her brain, which was allowing her autonomous system to function, but which had disconnected her consciousness from her body. The doctor told us that the terms of the living will stated he could not do anything like respiration or inserting a stomach tube for feeding, but that as relatives we kids could override the will. My brother and sister told me they would let me make the final decision, and agree with whichever way I decided. I knew how I wanted to decide, but I also knew that, on the miniscule chance that she regained consciousness, she would have despised us kids for the rest of her life, because she would know we couldn’t be trusted to carry out her most important last wish. So, I told the doctor to honor her will, and so he disconnected her IV, and allowed us to spend as much time with her as she passed. Because her body was so strong, she didn’t pass on for nearly 3 weeks, which the doctor and nurses marveled at. I made sure that I played her favorite tapes on a portable cassete player by her bed, and talked to her as much as I could on my shift with her. I don’t know if she was aware of it, or if she was truly cut off from the world, but I had to go on the assumption that something of the world was getting through. I pray that she heard me tell her how much I loved her and that I was making sure her one last wish was fulfilled. I can’t think of a harder thing to go through, or a harder decision I have ever made, but I’m thankful that my parents raised me and passed on their strength to me to handle this last duty to them. They sent me to church, but taught me that having faith in God (or not) was my choice, and I believe God gave me some strength to help me to help Mom on those last days.
I think I sometimes irritate my friends and acquaintences by not taking many “important” issues of the day very seriously, and basically living my life with little stress and not much thought or worry for the future. I believe it is because of the last lesson my parents taught me, a decade apart from each other. There is only one big thing that can happen to you in your life, and that’s the end of it. Everything in between can be survived and overcome, both good and bad. The bad never lasts, and neither does the good, and if there’s nothing I can do about it, I don’t have to worry. I believe that’s also what Jesus was trying to get at when he told his followers “take no thought for tomorrow, for the Lord will provide” or words to that effect. I greet each day thankful for living through the night, and if I survive the day, I thank Him again. I make some plans, of course, but I never fully count on anything, because “the best-laid plans of mice and man gang aft agly” and no matter how much I expect certain things to happen, they seldom do. Sometimes this makes me seem pessimistic, but as I tell my friends, “pessimists are never disappointed, and optimists are never pleasantly surprised.”
Boy was this rambling, and I never expected to put so much of myself into a posting like this, but on this day “it needed doing.” Thanks, Mom.