Facebook tends to remind me of things I don’t want to remember! Sure, their heart is in the right place when they drop you a “Memories from Facebook” first thing in the morning. It is usually a picture of my children that makes me start singing “Don’t Blink” by Kenny Chesney. Today’s reminder was of a day I’d rather completely forget.
It has been over a year since my father had what we now know must have been a massive stroke. During that time the family was all brought together at the hospital and asked what we wanted to do about the ventilator. It takes a moment, but you quickly realize you are being asked to make a decision you once thought God only handled. Trust me, there are times when human beings (with the assistance of modern medicine) can make the decision.
Looking back on that moment I can see the room and the faces of my family clearly. It is one of those moments where sadness seems to move your breathing into your stomach, darkens the room, and feels like a heavy blanket. I’m not sure what was going on in my mind at the time, but I’m guessing my southern roots said, “You now have to be the man of the house.” I felt as though the decision should rest on my shoulders, and honestly that was a mistake. A mistake I share so that you can learn from it.
The life-support decision isn’t one a person should make on their own. Yes, looking back my heart was in the right place, but I should have asked the doctor to step out and we as a family could have processed everything, cried, and maybe even argued about it for a moment. As I’m writing this I realize that I did sort of find a loop hole, and put the decision on the shoulders of the doctor. I asked him one question, “If that was your father in there what would you do…would you give him a chance to recover?” He said, “I think I would give him a chance.” So we gave my father a chance. And while my dad did show early signs of progress…he quickly declined in health and is now completely bed ridden and needs assistance with every aspect of life. As you watch a parent you love with all of your heart struggle it is then you ask yourself if you did the right thing for them. Unfortunately, the answer to that question may never be answered. Only they know the answer, and they may not be able to tell you.
So why am I writing this blog post? Please don’t think it’s because I want attention or sympathy. This is a post about the struggles we all face as we open and close the chapters of our life. And caring for elderly parents is a chapter with more questions than answers.
I would like to leave you with a couple pieces of advice. As I alluded to earlier, when faced with major decisions about your parents take a deep breath and bring all family members into the conversation. Second and most importantly, have the conversation about being on life support when your parents are healthy! Then the decision is made by the one person who should be making it.