Mom, 94, letting go

She is on a ventilator. She is unconscious. Who among us is not ready?

Published May 29, 2012 12:00AM (EDT)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Hi Cary,

My mother is on a ventilator. She is 94 years old. The decision to put her on it was not mine, but my older sister's. I find it grotesque.

My sister seems to believe that some cure will be found for what is essentially old age. We just need to find the right doctor. She thinks we must leave no medical procedure untried.

It would be unsafe for my mother to return home without around-the-clock help, and even with it, I cannot envision much quality of life for her.

My sister believes she is doing what my mother wants, but my mother is unconscious.

The doctors keep telling us that my mother's organs are failing; they need machines to keep her "alive."

I am worried that my sister is freaking out, is terrified of losing our mother and is not dealing with the situation rationally.

How can I keep her from losing her sanity?

Thank you for considering my question.

Trying to Stay Calm

Dear Trying to Stay Calm,

While your sister struggles to absorb the facts, she will do everything in her power to preserve life. Only as she accepts that her mother is soon going to pass out of this world will she begin to let go of the emergency measures to which she is desperately clinging.

While it would not be right to take actions or make decisions behind your sister's back or contrary to her wishes, I think it would be OK for you to contact a hospice organization just to talk with them.

The hospital may help you contact hospice, or you may contact them on your own. Explain what is going on and how you view it, and seek to understand what the options are. Hospice workers are experienced in helping anxious family members cope with the inevitable.

Tell them that your sister has the decision-making power. No one should pressure anyone to do anything.

As the end-of-life drama unfolds, it is a good time to sit and wait and contemplate. It's a good time to look back over your mother's life and honor her accomplishments and her spirit.

In the words of Dame Cicely Mary Saunders, who did much to establish the modern hospice movement, "As the body becomes weaker, so the spirit becomes stronger." You can rest assured that as your mother approaches death, she is prepared. She has had time.

It is your sister who now needs time.

By Cary Tennis

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