The difficult choices of late life
Are you, your parents and/or your grandparents prepared for the last stages of life?
As I sit in the Philadelphia International Airport awaiting my flight home, I am reflecting on my visit. Like many of us living here, I am a transplant. I grew up back east, but Glenwood Springs feels like home.
During my stay, I slept in my childhood bedroom in my mom’s 150-year-old home. It’s always a little comforting yet strange to stay in the old bedroom I left 45 years ago. Mom lives there with my sister Cindy, and like the house they are both in disrepair. It is the environment my mom has chosen, and my sister is doing her best to tend to Mom and her wishes.
When do individuals’ wishes cross the line of common sense? And who has the right to decide?
I am the oldest of five children, and none of us would disagree that we grew up in a dysfunctional family that has grown worse with age. My dear old departed dad put us in teams based on our primary parent-child loyalties. On one side was the red team that was led by my mom. My sister and two of my brothers Alan and Gregg have been proud members for years. My dad was the leader of the blue team. With him gone, my brother Hugh and I share the lead.
Years later the red team and the blue team strongly disagree on what are best for mom. And mom seems unable to make any changes even though she knows in her heart she should. She told me so during this visit.
Mom will be 86 in November. I don’t typically get back more than once a year, and that time gap drastically underlines the ravishes of aging that seem so subtle to my siblings that live close.
My sister Cindy has power of attorney and is very reluctant to use it, leaving the rest of us helpless. Age can alter the mind. My mom and sister’s washing machine and dishwasher both died about two years ago. They haul their clothing to the laundromat and then bring the yet heavier wet clothes back to the house to use the still functioning dryer. Mom gets so anxious when it comes to making nearly any decision that often simple life-improving choices are not made. My sister avoids forcing the issue to alleviate the anxiety.
Cindy has also put off much-needed back surgery for two years now, to be able to assist mom risking her own well-being. Not making choices like buying a new washing machine generates physical pain for her.
Cindy and I sat on the porch before I left for my flight discussing our view of what should be done to improve the quality of life for both Mom and her. Intellectually she agrees with me on the steps needed to improve both her and Mom’s lives. She also understands Mom would want none of it, and her emotions will not allow her to make the choices she knows are correct. I am sorry to say our conversation was very upsetting for her. It was wonderful to have members of the red and blue team to be able to voice different opinions respectfully.
Most of us will face the same choices, not only for our parents but also for ourselves. Some of us may be lucky enough to have both our mental and physical faculties functioning right until the end, and it won’t be an issue. The problem is, we won’t know what bucket we will land until we are in it.
These personal and emotional choices that we will face can be very difficult. I, for one, am doing all I can to take control now in case I don’t have that option in the future. My end-of-life goal is not to be a burden on others, especially my children.
I want my mom to be happy, and at the same time I would also like to see her living in an environment where her quality of life is the best possible. Sometimes, as in her case, happiness doesn’t necessarily mean the best quality of life.
I don’t expect my mom will be reading this column. Mom, if you are reading, though, I don’t mean to sound judgmental. Just know I’m writing this column out of love.
Michael Bennett is publisher of the Post Independent.
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