Letting Mom Go
“This is a nightmare,” said my young friend. “The hospital called me last night asking if they could take my mom off life support. I told them I needed to talk to my younger brother and sister first. His voice broke over the phone. “I don’t know what to do.”
Tom’s story is gut wrenching. His mom is in the last stages of terminal cancer. The cancer has metastasized. All the doctors can do is to keep her pain free and as comfortable as possible. Tom knows that and, after a struggle, is finally accepting it. But his siblings, both in their early 20’s, are not ready to give up. They talk about someone who has a friend who went to Mexico and got cured. They mention a cancer institute in the mid-west that’s supposed to be on the cutting edge. Never mind that the cost these kids would incur is way beyond their means. They grasp at any straw.
When Tom suggests they bring in Hospice, his siblings accuse him of “giving up “on their mom. He feels torn. His mom appointed him to act for her if she was no longer able to make life and death decisions for herself, but he wants his siblings to buy in. They won’t. They can’t let mom go.
Who among us has not been there with Tom? The situation, the cast of characters might be different but, thanks to the advances in medical technology, we find ourselves making painful, irrevocable decisions for a friend, a spouse, a parent. It’s awful.
Not surprisingly, many of us resent being put in this position. We do not want to be playing God for another person. It was easier when the bells and whistles of medical technology did not exist. We followed the doctor’s orders. We did what we could. Then we waited for God to take our loved one away. Life and death decisions were made by the dying person and her Maker, not us.
When my own wife died of cancer four years ago, I was grateful that she had the foresight to put down on paper her own wishes in case she should find herself unable to make those harrowing final decisions for herself. I knew what she wanted (in her case that no extraordinary means be used to keep her alive if she had no reasonable hope of recovery.) Just knowing her wishes was a tremendous relief.
I was also grateful that we called Hospice for assistance. Like my friend’s siblings, I had to fight at first that feeling that I was “giving up” on Kathleen. My Irish heritage is pretty good about laying those guilt feelings on…. thick. But, when our family finally made the move to call Hospice, my only regret was that we should have called them sooner. The support they gave me and our family, their professionalism and compassion towards my wife lifted a large burden from all of us.
As I write this column, I do not know how Tom will deal with this difficult and very human situation. Facing the early death of a parent can be excruciating and the closer the bond between children and parent, the more painful the experience. My heart and my prayers go out to my young friend and his brother and sister. I’m pulling for them to do the right thing by their Mom. Somehow, I think they will. Whatever happens, I know they will grow up big time in the process. We all do.