My mother, Angeline Manseau, passed away last Wednesday, 1/14/15, after a seven-year battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. My husband and I had been on a New Year’s cruise in the Caribbean and returned to frigid Chicago to discover that Mom had taken a tumble at her memory-support facility and was in the hospital. I literally dropped my suitcase and the mail in my hands and raced off to be with her. What I found was heart-breaking. The tumble had been far worse than anyone had suspected. Mom had shattered her pelvis and was in excruciating pain. The doctor told me and my brother, George, that Mom was not a candidate for surgery.
In addition, Mom had been having trouble swallowing for quite some time now. Despite the fact that her food at the facility had been pureed and her liquids thickened to a honey-thick consistency, she still coughed and choked and had difficulty swallowing. She had been coughing and choking on her dinner when she’d fallen and now that food was stuck in her throat. The doctor advised us that she shouldn’t ingest any food, medication, or liquids. Maybe, if Mom understood the complications, the doctor could have inserted an abdominal feeding tube. But Mom could never understand or remember. She’d be constantly annoyed by the foreign object in her stomach and would in all likelihood, yank out the tube.
The best thing we could do for our mother, the doctor then informed us, was to transfer her to hospice where she would be kept as comfortable as possible until the end.
The end? Mom had fallen many times over the years and had always bounced back from her injuries.
“But not this time,” her doctor said. My brother and I looked at each other and then at our mother, agitated, awake, and in agony. There really was no decision to make. Fate had made it for us. George and I turned back to each other, and nodded in agreement.
“You have to express your decision to me, Marian,” the doctor said. As the singular power-of-attorney for health care for my mother, I alone, had to verbalize our wishes. I had to say the words out loud and make them real. I had to put the wordless choice we’d made into words.
“We want to transfer our mother to hospice,” I began. “To keep her free of pain and to withhold all food and water.”
Things moved quickly after that. A nurse came and hung a sign on the hospital door. NPO – medical-speak for ‘nothing by mouth.’ An ambulance was ordered and Mom was made ready for the move. I followed the ambulance to the new state-of-the-art hospice across the street where a pair of nurses fluttered around mom taking vitals, hooking up an IV, and settling her comfortably into her queen-sized bed. They turned on the morphine drip and Mom fell into a peaceful, and hopefully painless, sleep.
She remained like that for the next forty-eight hours. And then on Wednesday afternoon, surrounded by her family and a few friends, Mom took her last breaths. We kissed her and told her we would be all right. That she could go now and be with Dad and our sister, Linda. That her struggle was over and she would find eternal peace.
Over the last seven years, I’d discussed this moment with Mom. We had reviewed the scenarios of her living will together. She’d told me she never wanted to be on a breathing machine. No tubes or extreme measures to extend her life. When the time came to die, she wanted to be free from restraint. I witnessed her signature on her DNR, not once but twice, when her doctor had renewed the faded Do Not Resuscitate form with Mom last year. The doctor had to pantomime the choices because Mom couldn’t understand the words. But in the end, Mom had been clear. Let her go.
I thought I’d been prepared for her death. But how could I have been? How could anyone ready themselves to say the eternal good-bye to someone they love? In those final days, the end-of-life decisions tear you up. The best we can do is think of our loved one, not ourselves, and let them depart as painlessly and peacefully as humanly possible.
Have you been faced with these same torturous decisions? Share your story with us. Let’s talk about Alzheimer’s and the devastation of this incurable disease. Yes, my blog is still called Everyday Eastland. I’ll be here to tell the stories from Chicago’s worst loss-of-life disaster and give you all the news about the upcoming 100th commemoration in July. But for me, 2015 started off in a totally different direction than I’d anticipated, and I want to share that new journey with you.
To learn more about Alzheimer’s Disease, check out the Alzheimer’s Association: http://www.alz.org/
For all the up-to-the-minute news on the Eastland 100th anniversary commemoration, like the Eastland Disaster Historical Society Facebook page: www.facebook.com/EastlandDisaster
Eastland, by Marian Cheatham www.amazon.com/Eastland-Marian-Cheatham/dp/1495203646
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