I’m not talking about that interesting moment when you hear your mouth say those things that your mother used to say, those things that you SWORE your mouth would never say. Nor am I talking about that other interesting moment when you are talking on the phone with family members and they say, “You sound just like your mother.” I am talking about that moment when you become your loved one – your mother, your aunt, your father, your sister, your friend – at least legally.
When does that moment occur? It occurs when a Power-of-Attorney is signed and then enacted (perhaps at a later date). In my case, my mother had signed both her Medical and Durable Power-of-Attorney in 2005, but they were never implemented until her stroke towards the end of 2010. At that time, as I actually implemented the power to make medical decisions on her behalf as well as took over her financial affairs, I was reminded of something that had been said to me once.
I had been told that with the implementation of the Powers-of-Attorney, the law looked at me as if I was her. This statement had a profound impact on me as I realized that whatever my thoughts might be about the situation, those thoughts were not to govern my decisions. My decisions were to be the decisions that she herself would have made were she still able to do so.
Here are a couple of specific examples of how that manifested in the dementia journey that my mother and I shared. Our journey from the date of her stroke until her death from the complications of Vascular Dementia was slightly less than two years. At the time of her stroke, my mother was living in Grand Junction, Colorado, while I was living in Denver, Colorado, 250 miles east of her. In the initial months after the stroke, I made the 500-mile round trip every other week until I was able to determine the degree of recovery she was going to experience. By Thanksgiving that year, we knew my mother had sustained significant damage to those areas of her brain used for critical thinking and problem-solving and she was never going to be able to live independently again.
By that time, I was advocating for my sister who was terminal with cirrhosis of the liver as well as being Medical and Durable Power-of-Attorney for my maternal aunt who was terminal with heart failure. I moved my mother to Denver so she could say goodbye to my sister and to facilitate the caregiving of my relatives in the same metro area. When I brought my mother to Denver, I placed her in an assisted living community. Why? The law now looked at me as my mother and the wishes she had always expressed to me were that she felt a community would be best for both of us.
After the move, it took a few months but mother finally stabilized emotionally and we had a good year together. In the spring of 2012, my mother started refusing to eat. Even though it was possible for my mother to have physically lived longer, it was obvious to me, our family, and the caregivers at the community that my mother was done, she had given up. Some might argue that I should have sought out medical care to make her eat and prolong her life but I would argue that that would quite possibly have robbed her of a dignified death.
More and more in our society and culture, we vehemently protest if we are not given the opportunity to give birth with dignity and no unnecessarily invasive procedures. We live our lives protesting injustices that might inflict themselves upon us or be inflicted upon us because we want to live with dignity. Yet, when our loved ones reach the end of their life whether through the number of years lived, the complications and ramifications of Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, or the results of a catastrophic illness such as cancer, we frequently resort to medical procedure after medical procedure after medical procedure in an effort to avert the inevitable outcome. I am not arguing that we give up every time an older adult we love is sick or a loved one has been in a severe accident. Rather, I am arguing for death with dignity. Whether our loved one has lived a long and full life and they are done, whether our loved one cannot win the battle against cancer, or whatever the case may be, if we go deep inside and pause to listen, it is possible to know when it is time to let them go. I believe this sensitivity is especially important when we are the Medical Power-of-Attorney and we are making medical decisions as if we are our loved one. It is not about our desires and our angry unwillingness to let them leave us. We are expected to make those decisions that we feel they would make based upon their expressed wishes or their wishes as best as we understood them.
It wasn’t easy but the life I was entrusted with was not my own so I, therefore, handled that life with the tender-loving awareness of the honored privilege I had been given of becoming my loved one.
This blog was excerpted from my article on Senior’s Resource Guide: http://www.seniorsresourceguide.com/articles/art01337.html