Around a week before my mother died, my dad stopped eating. I mean, not totally, but enough that he lost 21 pounds in an alarmingly brief period of time. He’d been getting a little plump, on the nursing home food. Now he looked frail and old. “It’s just part of the disease,” they tell me. “They lose interest in food. It’s sad, but there’s not a lot you can do about it.”
So, hospice was called in; there were meetings to be had and papers to sign. I am the caretaker, now. The only one.
Here is how you feel when you are filling out the advanced directive paperwork for your parent or other loved one:
Artificial respiration? Nope! Kill him!
IV fluids? No, thank you. Just kill him.
Feeding tube? Feeding tube, schmeeding tube! Didn’t I already tell you to just kill him?
Well, to clarify: this is how I felt. It’s not necessarily how you or anyone else felt, or might feel one day in the future. Still, I can’t help but believe that I’m not the only one who has experienced this extreme reaction to a little paperwork.
Antibiotics? Why? Don’t bother, JUST KILL HIM!
In my dad’s case, Alzheimer’s Disease has rendered him incapable of making these decisions for himself. If he could, I know exactly what he’d say. “Keep me alive, you assholes! What, you just want to let me die? Give me feeding tubes and drinking tubes and whatever else they got. Give me all the fucking tubes. What are you, stupid? I’m staying alive.”
So how, you might wonder, could I check ‘No’ to all those questions, knowing what I know about my father? Knowing that if he is magically cured of Alzheimer’s and one days sees these papers I’ve signed, he will murder me in cold blood?
I try to tell myself that he has no quality of life, anymore, but that’s not even entirely true. He still enjoys music, to the point where he gets teary-eyed listening to certain songs. He still likes sports, though he no longer knows much about them. He likes visitors and just last week he told me he has a girlfriend. It was a joke (I think?) but, if a guy can make a joke, isn’t that a little bit of quality?
The medical community, and certainly the economy, seems to stand behind life at all costs. After all, you pay for a funeral and it’s over. You pay to keep a human alive, and it can go on indefinitely. Also, as a culture, we’re not real accepting of the inevitability of death. Which is good. We shouldn’t be. Until it actually becomes inevitable.
I signed these very same papers for my mother, because by the time the questions arose, she was too sick to consider them. She was so sick that nothing was clear to her anymore. She might still be alive, had I agreed to any of the methods of keeping her that way.
I hated checking those boxes. But I think I’d hate the alternative even more.
Good God, this is getting morbid and sad. Well, I guess killing one’s parents will do that to a person.
Also, if there is an afterlife? I probably won’t see you for a while because let me tell you, I am SO grounded.