Letting Go

Sometimes there are decisions that adult children are called upon to make for their elderly parents or other close relatives.

Decisions no one should have to make.

Life or death decisions.

Sometimes they’re decisions set forth in a living will or an advanced medical directive. Those are somewhat easier, but not really. Not when you think about what you actually have to authorize, and what it means.

Sometimes, though, those decisions were not made in a living will or an advanced directive. Sometimes you’re called upon to make that decision because your loved one asks you to. Begs you to. And you have to make a choice between what you want, and what they want.

It’s not a good position to be in. It’s not a place you want to be. And it’s certainly not a decision you want to make. Because you’ll be the one who made that final decision, and there are a whirlwind of emotions that surround that decision.

Many years ago my elderly uncle who was in the last stages of Alzheimer’s went into a coma. He had a living will, and an advanced directive, both of which clearly stated he wanted no life-sustaining procedures done to keep him alive. No resuscitation; no feeding tube; no respirators. In short, he wanted to be able to pass from this life with whatever dignity remained.

His youngest sister, whom he had designated as his representative after his wife had died, couldn’t accept his wishes. She argued with the doctors and insisted a feeding tube be inserted. “I won’t let my brother starve to death!” she told them. She was in the process of calling an attorney to try and have his requests overridden when thankfully the Lord intervened and took my uncle Home.

However, what happens when your parent tells you she’s done. She’s had enough. No more respirator or dialysis. No more feeding tubes. She doesn’t want to live like that any more. You don’t blame her. But on the other hand…

You don’t want to be the one to tell the doctors. You don’t want to have that decision resting on your shoulders. You don’t want to be the one who’s responsible for her death. Even though you know that’s not really true, in your mind that’s what you’re thinking.

It puts you between a rock and a hard place, as the saying goes. You know she’s suffering; you know she’s miserable. And you know she won’t get any better. You also know you wouldn’t want to stay alive like that either.

What do you do?

I’ve counseled a number of women who’ve been in this position. It’s a hard place to be. I’ve talked with them before they made their decision, as well as afterwards. There is no one right decision because every situation is unique. And extremely personal. In fact, it’s one of the most personal you can ever make. And it’s not reversible.

One of the biggest problems, especially afterwards, is the huge feeling of guilt; the feeling that you and you alone were responsible for her dying. Many times other family members will tell you that as well, because they simply cannot accept the inevitable. They have to blame someone, rather than look at the overall situation and realize you were only carrying out your loved one’s wishes. Whether they were your wishes or not.

I am thankful I was not in that position with my mother. The Lord took care of her, and took her Home when she was ready. I honestly do not know how I would’ve handled such a decision had I been asked to make it, although she also had a living will and advanced directive. I do know, though, I would’ve been criticized, blamed, and called everything but a loving daughter by some of our other family members. Which would have made a bad situation far worse.

Advice? First let me say, none of us want to lose a loved one, particularly a parent. It doesn’t matter how old they are. We want them around forever. We want them to fight whatever is wrong with them, and we pray they’ll get better. But sometimes they don’t; sometimes it’s just time. They know it. And we know it in our hearts, whether our minds admit it or not.

Letting go is hard, but for those of us who know the Lord, we know it’s not goodbye; it’s not forever. It’s “I’ll see you later.” But we have to remember it’s not our decision; it’s theirs. We have to honor their wishes and put aside our own. Because one day we may be in their place, and we will want our children to do the same for us. We have to honor our parents’ wishes.

For anyone in this situation, my heart breaks for you, and I wish I could be with you to hold your hand and tell you it’ll be all right.

Because eventually it will be. When you meet again. And you’ll have eternity to make up for lost time.

Letting go is tough. And with God’s grace you will survive it.

And the reunion will be so very worth it.

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