Dear Carol: My mom is 85 and has lived with COPD, diabetes and heart disease for the last 10 years, but she’s been a fighter. She’s always said that she didn’t want extreme measures to keep her alive when her time to go was obvious, and I agreed, but now that the end seems close, I think that she should fight longer.
She qualifies for hospice, but hospice means that she has to stop the medications that are keeping her alive. Mom says that she’s fought long enough and she’s done with that. She just wants comfort for as long as she has left. It’s true that I hate the thought of losing my mom, but it’s unlike her to give up like this! She just isn’t like other examples that I read about. She’s tougher! What can I do to make her see that she needs to keep fighting? — BV.
Dear BV: I’m sorry that your mom’s health is declining. Like most adult children, you are having a hard time accepting that no matter what’s done from the medical standpoint, your mom’s life will most likely soon end.
Her situation seems different to you than others that you've read about because, as you say, this is your mom. It’s much harder to accept the reality that you face than it was to agree with a general concept that seemed far off in the future.
One of the hardest things for adult children to determine is whether the pressure that they put on their parent to fight to live longer is reflective of their own wants and needs or if it’s reflective of what the parent wants for themselves. I believe that you know that your reluctance is about you, but it’s uncomfortable to accept that. Still, you must. Yes, your mom could change her mind and that's her right, but she hasn't done so. In fact, she seems to have found peace.
If you haven’t talked with your local hospice personnel, I’d suggest this as your next step. They can help you understand that hospice care doesn’t mean giving up; rather, it means changing priorities. The focus now is on maintaining quality of life instead of quantity.
There is nothing cowardly or faint-hearted in someone saying that their time has come and they now only want comfort. Many older adults who believe that their spirit lives on begin to think in terms of a different type of future — a spiritual future. Others simply want the misery to end. Whatever your mom’s feelings are, remember that this is her life so it’s her choice. Try to work this through with hospice or another type of counseling so that you can support her and be at peace.
Again, my condolences to both of you. Of course it’s hard for you to let go of your mom. Understand that her decision isn’t because she wants to leave you, but she’s accepting her reality.
Now it’s your turn to do so with grace.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.