Days of Darkness 1
Sunday. Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Friday.
Today is Friday. The events I share here began on Sunday when Mom refused to eat or drink. That is where we begin.
From Sunday to Monday Mom went from believing she was dying to deciding she wanted to die. She saw her oncologist who has seen her through three bouts of cancer over the years. My sister took the reins and said, “I need some answers. She is convinced she’s dying and I we need to know, is her body or brain filled with cancer?” He asked Mom to submit to tests of her head and abdomen. She said, “No. I just want to die.”
“Okay, then. we’ll call in Hospice and let you die with dignity,” he said. He accepted her statement without question or exploration.
When they returned to the nursing home, Mom was seen by the psyche team. She declined treatment from them. Their response, with my sister’s approval, was to get her to the emergency room for crisis evaluation and commital. A day in the emergency room resulted in a diagnosis of severe depression and passive suicide. However, she would not agree to treatment. And the part of “passive suicide” that has weight is the word “passive.”
Not the doctors. Not her daughter. Not her friends. No one could commit her against her will. (This is taking place in the state of Massachusetts.)
On Tuesday my sister called me with the news that Mom was refusing food, fluids and all treatment. She would not get out of bed. Cocooned in a blanket she said she just wanted to die. Her weight was down to 90 pounds fully clothed including shoes. Without intervention, she would not last long. If her organs began to shut down, she could be admitted to the hospital and treated but no one mentioned the advance directive that was in place to state her wishes. Beyond that, once her organs began to go, it would be too late to expect a full recovery.
Our hands were tied but no one was giving up. Thousands of miles away I found myself in a painful state of whirling thoughts weighing reasonableness with understanding mixed with self-awareness. I was not, am not, willing to accept that depression is teminal illness. I thought about whether I should get a flight or keep my feet on the ground here, accepting my back-seat role.
Wednesday brought no change. Mom would not listen to friends who asked her to accept treatment with the urging that if she couldn’t do it for herself, to please do it for them. She would not even allow the pressure sore on her tailbone to be cared for – something I attended to with great care for her; it was fully healed over when I left.
By Thursday my sister had accepted the ultimate outcome of this was Mom’s death. She had done everything she could. She attempted to find out if Mom could be committed in New York state but the person she spoke with was unhelpful. She said she could accept Mom’s decision to die. It was her choice. But I expressed that it was not her choice because she was not really in control. It was the choice of depression. Suicide is not something someone does. It’s something that happens to the victim.
Mom got annoyed with my sister and said, “What difference does it make. You’ll just haul me off and put an IV in me.” My sister pressed her about who was going to do that and she responded, “The nursing home people. They won’t just let me die.” My sister argued with her a bit but Mom insisted that was the law until the nurse came in and told her otherwise. They discussed bringing in Hospice and my sister explored how that would be handled since medicare would pay for either the nursing home or Hospice, not both. Technically Mom has no assets so the next call would have to be to the lawyer.
Thursday night I cried for the first time in a year or more. John asked the tough questions and one really interesting one, “What do you want out of this situation?” For me. It’s something I thought about at times in terms of the death of my parents but wasn’t sure the same answers applied. Generally they do. I want relief. Not that I really think I’ll get it. I want to be free of the insanity, the manipulation, the twisted relationship that I can navigate only if I shut down emotionally.
It will never go away, though. I will never be free, never have the level of relief I fantasize. And her death ends any hope of reconciliation, peace or mutual understanding.
Would I go down there? After much thought and even after a night’s sleep was no. I had done what I could for her while I was there. I did not want to be there to watch her waste away. Seeing her do that to herself, to her friends and family while she apologized right and left but wouldn’t change her mind would only cause more anger and resentment. And what if she did turn it around?
Would I really believe she hadn’t been seeking attention all along? John suggested the reason she brought up the IV was because she thought someone was going to come in and rescue her. Maybe when she found out that wasn’t going to happen, she would come to her senses. I said, “I don’t think so. She’s depressed. She’s not in control. She’s not really making this decision.” Although it did sound like something she would do.
Friday I called my sister as soon as I woke up. “She’s made a complete turn-around,” she said. Friends visited and said it was like old times. She had eaten breakfast. I woke up John to tell him what any spouse really wants to hear, “I think you were right.”
It’s not over. Tomorrow we could be at square one. What do I really want out of this roller coaster ride? I want my mother to experience happiness and peace before she dies. I want to reach greater self understanding and healing so that I may be at peace with her passing when the time comes.
For today I just want to close my eyes and rest with the comfort that for a moment, an hour, one night my life is about me.