Letting Mom Go

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.

Valentine's Day …for all ages

A Valentine’s Day Story..for all ages

“Anthony,” my eleven-year-old foster grandson, is uncharacteristically subdued. I ask him, “Hey, what’s wrong kiddo?” He burrows deeper into the passenger seat of my car and says “nuttin.” “Anthony, did you have a fight with Maria?” He says, with pain in his voice, “Yea.” She says she wants to break up with me and go with Robert.” “I’m sorry,” I say. “What happened?” “Nothin happened. Yesterday we were doing fine but today she told me she doesn’t like me anymore.”

I don’t normally do couples counseling for 11 year olds and I have to confess, that a part of me wanted to laugh. With the perspective of 75 years of life and love behind me, I knew that a fractured love affair at the age of eleven was hardly a tragedy. Still, I was simpatico. He was sad and part of my job as a grandpa was to listen to his troubles.

But as I tried to comfort the broken heart of a pre-adolescent boy, I was very conscious of a conversation I had earlier in the day with an eighty-nine year-old friend of mine. Tom, a bachelor for some years, had just met a wonderful woman at the Senior Center dance. “Hank,” he told me. “Ella is a beautiful woman. She’s warm and friendly and intelligent. I think I’ve fallen in love again.”

Sometimes we all need to be reminded that love is as old as humankind and as young as springtime. Young people are surprised that people after 40 or 50 can still fall in love. But it does happen. It happened to Tom and, I expect that romance has never had any age limit. A younger generation needs to recognize that there are countless ways of being in love with another that transcend age spots or gray hairs.

Older people need to remember the preciousness of their own first love and not belittle in any way those first stirrings of romance. It ill behooves an older generation to dismiss the magic of young love as mere “puppy love.” We owe them more respect than that.

So I propose a Valentine’s Day toast to love both young and old, from pre-teens to senior citizens, to candy hearts and flowers, to kisses and hugs and all those good things that make our lives sing.

Anthony, I hope you and Maria can find a way to get back together. And to you Roy and Ella, thank you both for helping all of us to keep in mind that love is possible at any age. May your love endure as long as the stars shine in the heavens.