We continue our story about Tom, a 43-year old man whose aging parents have not prepared or planned for End-of-Life matters—and who are reluctant to discuss such topics. Here, he shares his continued effort to talk to his mom, who is seriously ill, about her End-of-Life wishes.
Last week I talked about how I laid the groundwork with my aging father; this week I want to share the experience of talking to my mom about End-of-Life.
Neither of my parents wanted to plan for their final days. However, I knew my Mom would be harder to influence because she prides herself on doing things her way. When I first brought up End-of-Life planning to Mom, she said, “There is nothing I hate more than lawyers and doctors, just shoot me when I get old.”
Mom couldn’t predict she would become seriously ill the day after she retired. It seemed like a cruel joke because Mom wasn’t sure she wanted to retire. She kept saying, “People tell me I shouldn’t retire because a lot of people die with nothing to do.”
But she did retire. And then she got sick, really sick. But Mom refused to see a “Western doctor” to get diagnosed. After being ill a few months, my stepfather finally talked her into seeing a doctor. When the tests came back and her doctor said she might have cancer, she didn’t get a CT scan and she didn’t get a second opinion. Instead, she just stopped going to her doctor because it wasn’t the news she wanted to hear.
If Mom will not even see a doctor, how can I get her to plan for End-of-Life? If she won’t face her illness when it’s staring her in the face, what could motivate her to plan for its worst possible outcome?
As more weeks passed, the family went into panic mode. We decided Mom needed someone to help her make decisions because it seemed the sicker she got, the less logical her decision-making became.
Mom is seeing a series of naturopaths and Chinese acupuncturists to help treat her ailments. None of these people can diagnose her. Every time a naturopath advises her to go to the hospital, she stops seeing that person and moves to the next one.
As I watch her losing weight, I see the woman I know slipping away. She spends most of her time in bed and in pain; I feel helpless. If it were up to her children she would be in the hospital, but she becomes so upset when I mention the word “doctor,” she has now barred me from saying the word when I am with her.
Mom is extremely intelligent but not educated on how being sick in the modern world works. She isn’t aware that her wishes to have a holistic ending to life will not hold up if she winds up in an Emergency Room without an Advance Directive.
Mom needed to know the facts. It’s her right to treat her illness holistically but it’s up to me to educate her on the pitfalls ahead.
I thought about how I could reduce the emotional stress of the End-of-Life conversation with her. One day while visiting her, we were talking about hospitals. I mentioned that today, a person can’t control their own treatment if they become incapacitated. Then I made a passive plea, “If we can just get your Advance Directive in order now, we can avoid doing it in the middle of a crisis.”
Then I let her talk. She told me that even if she has cancer she would not undergo chemotherapy. She wants to “go out naturally.” I gently pressed the issue, “Mom, if you want control over your treatment you need to have an Advance Directive or POLST form in place.”
When I next asked if it was okay if we worked on Advance Directive paperwork together to make sure her wishes are met, she changed the subject…
A family friend went to visit Mom the other day. She knows how worried we are about Mom so she called me afterwards to say, “Your Mom is doing it her way; all we can do it let her do it.” Then she said something that hit home, “I think she knows she is dying. And she doesn’t want to find out from a doctor that she has cancer. That would take away the hope.”
This helped me understand how she is dealing with her sickness.
I have begun to accept that she is dying. But when it comes to making an End-of-Life plan, time is running out. I have to be even more persistent in my efforts because without one, her fate may end up in the hands of an Emergency Room doctor, who makes the choices for her.
Tune in next week to learn how things progress in my efforts to get both my Dad and Mom more prepared for End-of-Life.