As many people around me know, my father, who lives in another state, is failing. I have everyone who needs to know alerted, in case I have to suddenly take off. A few weeks ago, my sisters and I gathered and said our good-byes to him. And then he rallied. His condition has been up and down, but the end is clearly near.
I’m writing about this because of three excellent resources I’ve recently run across.
The first is a NY Times blog called The New Old Age: A blog focusing on the elderly and the adult children who struggle to care for them, dealing with issues of aging, especially aging parents. Wish I had looked at it sooner; it has a lot of what I can say, as someone who has now been through a lot of what the site talk about, is excellent advice, and reassuring reflections. It’s hard to be making decisions for another person, and caring for the people who cared for you. I have been spared much of this because in their later years my parents moved to be near my younger sister, who has borne by far the greatest burden.
Another is a recent Fresh Air segment with author, doctor and bioethicist Robert Martense, author of A Life Worth Living: A Doctor’s Reflections On Illness In A High-Tech Era. For me, the most useful aspect of this is that he had come to the interview directly from being with his dying mother. He talks about both the emotional and the medical decision-making aspects of being in that situation, as both a son and an emergency room physician. For example, I learned that it’s not appropriate to put someone on a ventilator who is not going to be able to recover their lung function — and why not. And how (and why), even with an advance directive, medical professionals are likely to recommend intrusive measures to extend the body’s physical functioning regardless of the quality of life.
The last is one I have no first- or second-hand experience with, but that looks useful, and is recommending on the NY blog: Compassion and Choices, “a nonprofit organization, improves care and expands choice at the end of life. We support, educate and advocate.”