Our family, always so close and loving, had had the “Conversation” around the dinner table many times over the years. I was a Hospice Nurse, familiar with my parents wishes, yet somehow the Directive forms I’d provided for them never got witnessed and signed. They promised they would get around to it… they were only in their early 60’s, there seemed to be plenty of time…
Suddenly, at age 63, Mom had a stroke. Thankfully she survived with good cognitive function. Not long after returning home from the Hospital, she made some changes to her Advance Directive, had it witnessed, signed and gave copies to her Physician, Hospital and family.
Dad was another story… he’d always had a tendency to procrastinate, but somehow, it was getting worse. The following year we were devastated by the unexpected death of our beloved youngest brother. Ted had a sudden, massive MI (myocardial infarct), at the age of 43. During the following year, Mom was diagnosed with renal cancer and had surgery to remove the kidney… we were all still reeling with shock and emotional pain. For a time it seemed like it was one crisis after another. Dad still had not signed his Advance Directive, which I encouraged him to do each time I visited. ( “I will, I will”…)
Four years passed, our Mom was dying of liver cancer. Her final 7 weeks, she was cared for in our home through Hospice. With a plan in place, each wish from her Directive was followed (and improved upon!) as she wanted. Her pain was under good control and she was alert and up and about. We were blessed with precious hours to talk, express our forever love and be with dear friends and family. We had time to laugh. With family jogging at her side , Mom drove her motor scooter chair around our neighborhood, day or night, whenever she wanted, until a week before she died. She loved the starry night skies, the sound of crickets and the fresh night air. We were all comforted by the wonderful Hospice Pastor who visited regularly at home. One of Mom’s dying wishes was for Dad to sign his Advance Directive, which, thankfully , he did. We all got copies. Mom remained comfortable, alert and mostly mobile until 4 days before her passing. During the acute turn for the worse we nursed her in a hospital bed in our family room, her beloved “Granddogs” chins on her bed. We kept her lips and mouth moistened and the sheets turned back off her feet, as directed. We witnessed her sudden wide awake alertness, her deathbed visions, seeing and speaking to her deceased Mother, Father, Aunt and our brother Ted, calling them by name, telling them “but I’m not ready to go yet” and then “well, alright…” and our hearts were all bound together more tightly in love and astonishment… We played her “Gone With The Wind” DVD and Mom and we girls had coral polish pedicures. We were all around her, beautiful choral music playing, when she left us, peacefully. Our hearts were hurting and we were exhausted but each of us felt we’d given Mom everything we possibly could that she needed and wanted. It helped ease our grief. Mom’s Advance Directive helped make the unbearable more bearable for us all.
Three weeks later I walked into Dad’s house to find him cold, clammy, with dusky blue lips and nail beds. I whisked him into my car and to the Emergency Room, with him protesting every bit of the way. 2 days later he had open heart surgery to bypass 5 almost completely blocked coronary arteries. He recovered well, but then, within 6 months, I was seeing an increase in the cognitive changes which had been creeping up on him for a while. He refused to see a doctor, became suspicious of everyone and thus began years of some of the most difficult times in our family’s life. Dad was suffering with Alzhiemer’s type and vascular dementia. Our beloved, wonderful Dad became heartbreakingly incapacitated over the next 12 years. I became his legal Guardian as he was unable to make even simple decisions. All I can say is Thank God and thank our Mom that Dad at last put his final wishes in writing. Although all of us in the family knew our Dad well, it was a tremendous relief to have his legal wishes in writing, especially during occasional hospitalizations. We followed each Directive lovingly and as a guidance, just as we had for Mom. Dad passed peacefully last summer, his children , care center and Hospice united in carrying out his wishes. Dad’s last act as a Father was to gather us at his side and focus only on love, comfort, remembrance and dignity for him (and for us), just as he wanted.
Something unexpected happened. I was at Dad’s bedside, rereading his Directive shortly before his death. My brother, sister and I had completed his wishes the best we could in the circumstances… Suddenly, looking at his handwriting and ideas from a more lucid time, a feeling of Peace washed over me. I was able to focus on the boyish, warm, wonderful, intelligent, such a loving Dad who was ours before Alzheimer’s. Our real Dad. Months afterward now, that feeling of Peace still lingers. You never know what life will bring and sometimes it’s the little things, like a signature, that can make a big difference. If you are reading this and are procrastinating, please, write and sign your Advance Directive today.