Everything has changed: a moral dilemma

WE passed a sad and significant milestone in my mother’s journey in dementia on Friday of this week. For the first time, she did not know who I was. She thought that I was her father. Nothing could convince her otherwise.

Today, she seemed brighter when I visited her at the care home where she lives with my father. She seemed to understand when I told her that yesterday Jacqui and I went to see our son and grandchildren in Gloucester. I left her sitting quietly in the lounge when I went to see my father in his room.

When I came back, everything had changed. She was terribly agitated. Her hands gripped desperately the arms of her chair. Her legs continually jack-knifed up towards her chest. Her eyes were staring straight ahead at sights known only to her. She was having urgent and angry conversations with or about her sister, dead now for thirty years and more.

Earlier this week, a mutual friend informed me that an ex-work colleague’s mother-in-law had died. I telephoned my ex-colleague (he was Best Man at my wedding 27 years ago). He explained that his mother-in-law had fractured her hip in a fall, and had died in hospital after contracting pneumonia.

I said I was very sorry. “Don’t be sorry,” he said. “It’s a blessing. Her dementia had got so bad that she didn’t know who she was, or where she was, anymore. Her death was a release for her and us.”

I am not ashamed to admit that I have reached the point where I simply want the same release for my mother. Is it morally wrong to wish for the death of a parent? I cannot believe it is.

Perhaps I am being selfish, wanting to remember my mother as she was, not as she is. And I know that, if she is ‘spared’, worse is to come for her yet.

I have written before about how Britain’s ageing population means more and more will face this situation; people who have reached retirement age themselves, with parents who are still alive but struggling with the physical and mental consequences of advanced age.

I find myself increasingly impatient with the medical and religious arguments against what is called assisted suicide. I know my mother, a proud and independently-minded woman, would not have wanted her closing days to be like this.

Distressing for us; surely insufferable, in her lucid moments, for her.

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2 thoughts on “Everything has changed: a moral dilemma

  1. We are also struggling with this issue with Vlad’s mother. She is in an earlier stage of dementia at age 81, and it hurts so much to see how much she can’t remember, and how it’s starting to impair her daily functions. She insists on staying in her home, and without outside assistance. For now, we are allowing it with close supervision from us, but at some point we will have to make some decisions. Her health concerns are one of the reasons we decided I could retire a bit earlier than originally planned. We are hoping some new medication will postpone the inevitable for a few years. California just passed the Right To Die act, but it only works for terminally ill patients, and does not allow a dementia patient’s family to choose that option – there is too much possibility for abuse. I am so sorry you’re going through this too.

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