I love my mother. But if she passed away today I would be thankful. That doesn’t make me a heartless, horrible daughter; I only want her to be free from earthly constraints and permanent disability.
She has lived in a nursing home for more than five years. After suffering from serious car wrecks, numerous falls that broke her back, hip, and knee, and injured her head, she is confined to a wheelchair. Dementia has robbed her of cognitive ability, and even though we wrote family names on all the photographs that line the walls of her tiny room, she can’t remember who we are. When I visit, she mutters incoherently but cries when I leave.
Mom would want to be remembered for her energetic, positive accomplishments, not for how she is existing now. Decades ago, she helped my father create and run several successful businesses in southern Idaho. She owned Farmhouse Restaurant near Wendell and the eatery beside the freeway was voted “Best Road Food in America” in a 1996 nationwide survey of truck stops. Major media carried the story and NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw vowed to stop by during an Idaho vacation. The media referred to Mom as “jolly.”
She also served on the local school board, organized the community blood drive, and volunteered at the polling place during political elections. She adored her grandchildren and made the world’s best chocolate chip cookies. She was widowed 25 years ago at age 61 and never considered dating so lived alone for twenty years. We moved her to an assisted living facility and then into a nursing home as her mind and body continued to deteriorate. This resilient child of the Great Depression who reluctantly spent any money on herself has now depleted her assets paying for the increasing costs of her high level of care.
I recently met with the medical staff at the nursing home. They wanted to increase Mom’s medications for diabetes and high blood pressure and I rejected the diagnosis. What’s the purpose? It’s not as if she will take some magic pills and suddenly stand up, dance, and laugh again. They have the professional obligation to prescribe medication, but I have the bloodline, empathy, and legal authority to say no more.
For the past 25 years, I have been her designated Power of Attorney. I carry the DNR File that contains the “Do Not Resuscitate” instructions. Last year she was hospitalized again, and the doctor told me she had 72 hours to live, so she was given morphine but not any water or food. I met with kind Hospice workers who advised me to make funeral arrangements, so I did. I sat by her bed and played her favorite Tennessee Ernie Ford spiritual music to accompany her on the transition. The next morning, she opened her eyes and said, “Hi!” Since then, she has endured three more ambulance trips and hospital stays.
People will judge and criticize me for wanting her to pass away. But I’m the one who has changed her adult diapers, wiped her tears, decorated her rooms, held her hand, organized medical bills, and made excuses for why her first-born son hasn’t visited in 15 years. In the nursing home, I see other adult children assisting their ailing parents. We pass in the hallways and nod to each other as colleagues in a role we didn’t choose but lovingly accept. Critics shouldn’t condemn us until they have walked down similar halls for several years.
Death without dignity diminishes the memories and light of an abundant life. When the sweet chariot finally swings low enough to carry her home, I’ll play Tennessee Ernie Ford singing about peace in the valley. Bless her peapickin’ heart.
Copied from my essay published on the Huffington Post.