I attended a seminar this week to discuss issues that affect the aging (65+) population. One of the speakers shared a story about her 90-something-year-old father who died earlier this year. Being a nurse, she suggested to the doctor during her dad’s final hospitalization that perhaps a particular procedure could help him be more comfortable. She said the doctor told her that of course they could do that but the risk to her father outweighed any benefit given his age, his condition, and the likelihood of his death in a very short time (which occurred only a few days later). She also shared that what the doctor told her next made quite an impact on her. I don’t remember the statement verbatim, but it was something like: “The angels are pulling him up by his shoulders and you are trying to drag him down by his feet.” Just hearing her rendition of it impacted me. So much so that I sat down at the computer with my Publisher program and free clip art and came up with the illustration below. (I’m not an artist, but I think it gets that doctor’s point across pretty well visually.)
It’s beyond difficult to let go of people we love. It’s downright painful and heart-wrenching. Even 22 and 17 years after the deaths of my Dad and Mom (respectively), I can still recall the scenes of their deaths and the emotions I felt at that time. And there are times when the span of those years seems very short, as if I just lost them. I always remind myself that I was fortunate to have had them for 30 and 35 years (again, respectively); but there are also times when I feel “cheated” as I watch my friends still enjoying time with their parents today.
But now that I know what I know about the desperate attempts to hold on to our loved ones, I have wondered if we did harm to Dad by having him airlifted from one hospital to another in a last ditch effort to keep him with us. Did the procedures forced upon his ailing body in his last several hours really do him any good? I’m certain he was not aware of any of it. And at the time, I didn’t understand what was happening. He was off in another room with medical professionals doing their life’s work. I just knew that it wasn’t looking good for him to survive and I didn’t want to lose my Dad. I wonder, if we’d really understood what was going to be done to him, would we have pursued such aggressive, invasive procedures?
He died that day, in August 1993, despite the “heroic” attempts to keep him with us. He was 66. If he had survived until now, he’d be 88. If what happened to him then were happening to him now, I know what my decision would be. And as hard as it would be for me, I know it would be better for him if I’d release my grip.
Caring Choices –They’re not easy to make. But they’re necessary. We can help you start talking now to avoid guilt and regrets down the road over the choices you may be forced to make.
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