When All is Said and Done

by | Aug 28, 2013 | 0 comments

“When all is said and done,” I counsel a son, daughter or a spouse, “you live with the decisions you’ve made while caring for a family member.” This is particularly true as the end of life approaches. Decisions weigh heavy. A little more time to see if there is improvement?  Advanced medical technology?  A feeding tube because you cannot let mom starve to death? I am not addressing the pros and cons of these decisions, but the afterlife. Not a spouse’s or a parent’s…ours.

 Two recent unrelated situations are the impetus for this writing. The latter situation hinging on the first. Years of experience have helped me to recognize when the end is near.  In the initial situation, I knew that the complication of a stroke was bringing a father’s life to a finale. Even if he did survive the quality of his life would be totally unacceptable to him. But who am I to take hope and faith away from a distraught daughter? I encouraged her to do what was reasonable.  She was not talking aggressive testing, but enough to know if there was the possibility for some improvement.  When the tests showed little chance of recovery, she contacted hospice. Her father died days later. It is too early to know how she feels about the decisions she made just weeks ago.

But this is not the situation for Paul. The other person on whom this hinged sequence rests.  Paul is not a client but a grade school friend whom I recently had the opportunity to see after many years. He told me about the death of his wife some nine months ago. He described all he had done for his wife over the last three years of her life. Not to boast but by way of explaining his next statement.  When hope was replaced by constant hospitalizations, tubes threading through her body, and veins diminished by constant punctures, she said to her husband she was ready to say good-bye.  “I did everything I could for my wife, I was totally devoted to her, I lived my life for her. I have no guilt now, I have a sense of freedom. She is at peace, and what I did for her has brought me peace without guilt.”

Thomas Mann in his book, The Magic Mountain, wrote, “A man’s dying is more the survivors’ affair than his own.” As this geriatric care manager counseled Patrice and listened to Paul, she realized just how important our decisions and actions are. Not just in the moment but for years that lie before each of us.

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