20130308 – DNR

Dear Mom,

Thank you for making clear your end of life wishes as you learned more about your condition. You made your passing a gift to your family by making sure we were not left with those difficult decisions that often tear families apart. Your decision was a blessing in disguise.

I love you,

Terry

I’ve been trained and certified in CPR. My Mom had terminal complications from a less prominent illness than those we all know well such as cancer, diabetes, or heart disease, but she made it clear that she was not to be resuscitated and that no extreme measures were to be used to prolong her life. At the end of her life she remained of sound mind and we were conversing almost to the moment of her passing. When she suddenly began that transition every fiber in my being was screaming at me to do something, but her eyes reassured me that I was doing exactly what I should as I let her go. Then I felt strangely calm as I watched her slip away, and comforted as I whispered “I love you Mom” in her ear one last time.

DO NOT RESUSCITATE or “DNR” can be a scary topic, but it is an absolutely critical piece of an “advance directive” or a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care necessary for others to make decisions about your care when you are no longer able. After my father-in-law’s passing last year and prior to my heart catheterization and stent insertion last fall my wife and I visited our family attorney to arrange for these essential documents for each other. We knew from my experience with my mother and ours with my father-in-law that we couldn’t leave each other without instructions about our own care should our health take a sudden turn.

End of life decisions can be difficult for anyone, but I’d rather make my own decisions regarding my life than pass that responsibility to someone else who might have no idea what I had been thinking. I’m 63 but I think even my 28 year old daughter and 32 year old son should be thinking about these things and discussing them with their spouses. It’s never too early do something about Powers of Attorney, Medical Decisions, wills and trusts; life is too unpredictable and they can always be changed later if circumstances change.

I remember the Terri Shiavo case a few years ago where the courts ended up deciding whether or not to pull her feeding tube because there were no clear instructions from her, just some ambiguous conversations between her and various family members, and different opinions between her parents and her estranged husband. I remember thinking if that was me my brain would be screaming “Hey, don’t starve me, I’m still in here!” If my heart failed or I stroked out, that might be a different story.

When I was thinking about my own situation I could see why people just don’t want to deal with it. These are tough questions for me to answer for myself; I imagine for lots of people it’s not any easier. Maybe for some it is but I can be indecisive in certain situations. I’m young enough that I could have a good quality of life if someone performed CPR on me and I pulled through. On the other hand, if I suffered a stroke or serious head trauma, I don’t think I’d want to stick around in a persistent vegetative state for years with only a miniscule chance of recovering, maybe give me a few weeks and if I don’t come around, pull the plug. Fortunately our attorney helped us think through these issues and come up with answers we could live with, sorry about the pun.

Having this conversation with aging parents can be difficult; we were fortunate our parents all made and documented their decisions well ahead of time while still of sound mind. We’re following their example and reminding those of you in the sandwich (and everyone else for that matter) to do the same. The sandwich will be a little more palatable for all concerned; even the old PB&J can be pretty tasty with just the right amount of jelly and the perfect little swirl of peanut butter! Make those “end of life” decisions for yourself now and don’t force them upon your loved ones.

Make life easier on those who care most about you and care for you, and you’ll be giving yourself some peace of mind as well …

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