Today marks two months since my mom died. In that time I have celebrated my daughter’s birthday, my wife’s birthday, Mother’s Day, my wedding anniversary, and many other annual celebrations. I watched my daughter finish kindergarten. I matched for fellowship at my top choice program. And for the last two and a half weeks I have worked in the neuro ICU.
My emotions have run high, often, in those many moments of joy that I have gotten to share with so many, especially Emily, and my tears have flown freely. At home, in the car, at work. And I am sad, but I am not consumed by sadness. I feel loss, not lost. And I am finally starting to feel relief. For my mom. For my family.
She chose to end a battle, on her own terms. It was not a battle she ever wished to fight, or for that matter ever felt like she won. She probably wouldn’t have even called it a draw. But when it was over, she called the shots. In her house, in her clothes, on her chair, in her bed, with her family, her cat, her fireplace, her deck…
I have seen a number of people die, just in the last few weeks, of natural causes, of traumatic injuries, sometimes we can’t put a name on what takes an otherwise healthy person out of their normal homeostasis and into a chaotic downward spiral to death. We all die, but more and more I find meaning in how we choose to, if we get the choice.
I met one man who came to the ICU with an advance directive that explicitly stated his choices, to not be kept alive by machines if there was no hope for meaningful recovery. And his family, and the hospital, were able to abide by it, knowing his wishes were clear.
What my mother did, what that man did, that so many people miss the chance to do, was let the people around them know 1) they care how they die, and 2) they love them enough to include them in their choice, to help them deal with the loss by telling them, even in death, they have dignity and autonomy.
I’m sad, and I miss my mom, but everyday that passes I am more grateful for the time I got with her at home. Time I might not have gotten had she not been so clear about her wishes. Talk to your friends and family about end of life. Think about how you want to be treated. If you know a physician, talk to them about what your options are for end of life care. If you know an attorney, talk to them about an advance directive and a durable power of attorney. If you don’t know an attorney, lucky you. (Kidding)
Kitty was on home hospice those last four days. I haven’t adequately expressed my gratitude to those who helped her – thank you! And to the great many of you who have supported me and my family as we have grieved, thank you! Please, try to give your family the same chance I got.