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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published August 07 2011

Bursack: Questions come up after loss of loved one

Dear Carol: My mother died at age 95 after years of declining health and moderate dementia. I have mixed feelings about the final decisions I made. Mom had been very intelligent and talkative, but in her last two years she would only speak when asked a question, and then would often only answer yes or no. She was unable to let health workers know how she felt. Until the last few months, she knew who I was and was glad to see me.

Mom faced many hospitalizations during her last years, which always had a negative effect on her. After the last time, she no longer wanted to eat or communicate. She just seemed to give up. I finally made the decision to go with hospice care. And they took very good care of her.

I did try a few times to see if Mom would take a few spoonfuls of thickened liquid nutrition, but she would not take it. Maybe she was just ready to let go, as she died peacefully in a week. I still wrestle with the fact that, possibly, I should have had her sent to the hospital one more time. How do I get over that doubt? – Shirl

Dear Shirl: I’m so sorry for all that you went through. You truly fought the good fight for your mom. I do know this: Both my mother, and her mother said plainly, as their lives came to a close, that they were tired and wanted to “go.” That feeling is not uncommon. The body and spirit can get tired of fighting. Medical science these days can keep a body alive long after the spirit has let go of life, which can, at times, cause confusion and even more grief.

Hospice aims to let people die with dignity, when death is what their whole being is fighting for, and a cure is no longer possible. If the family of a dying person has an idea of what the person would have wanted under such conditions, letting go is a little easier. That’s what a health directive is for.

You have a good heart, Shirl. I hope you can let go of any lingering feelings that you maybe should have kept your mom’s body going longer. In my opinion, at least, you did the right – and loving – thing for your mom. You let her go, naturally, when she was ready.

Hospice has grief counseling for up to a year after a death. I’d advise you to attend some sessions. I think, then, you could put this to rest.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.