For the next few months, this blog will occasionally look at the concept of choice. It is true that “Life is a sum of all your choices.” But do we even realize that every response involves a choice, that we always have a choice?
THE HARDEST CHOICE I EVER MADE
My mother birthed the last of 10 babies at age 43. That baby was me.
As the wife of a farmer who never seemed to make ends meet, she had learned to make do with little. Hand me downs were always being re-made or re-sized. Vegetables and fruits were canned endlessly in the summer. Bread was kneaded and set to rise each Saturday and made to last for the whole week. She had survived the depression with 8 mouths to feed. She had prayed two boys though WW II. Yet if she complained, I never heard it. In spite of hardship, she always revealed herself as a dignified lady.
She would sing or recite poems to us as we worked with her in the kitchen. She was wise and seemed never to tire from her long days. Of utter importance to her, was that we learn our catechism lessons.
After my sister closest in age married, I was fortunate to be alone with my mother for several years before I went away to college. During that time, Mom was a buxom, plump, 5 foot 4 inches and weighed in at about 165 pounds. I use to call her “my big fat Mama.” She never took offense. We became closer during that time, and she often had to listen to my dating woes.
My Mom was still full of life when I married and left Michigan to live in New York. When I stepped back into Michigan after 25 years, Mom was in assisted living. She was now a slight woman, bent over from osteoporosis, and the rounding had shrunken to a mere 120 pounds. Because of a fall from which she sustained a broken pelvis, she now walked with a walker. Yet, her mind was sharp as a tack, and she prayed daily for all her children and 24 grandchildren by name. Now I was visiting weekly, and she perceived the deep pain I carried with me and blessed me with words of wisdom and caring. Her hugs were still a balm for my soul.
Five years later, Mom was taken out on the dance floor by my new husband. As he swung her around in her wheelchair, she smiled from ear to ear, glad that I had made a new life for myself.
A TOUGH CHOICE TO MAKE
A year later, the call came that Mom had several small strokes and was in the hospital. When I saw her that morning, she could not speak. After several days with no improvement, a Care Conference was called with the physicians and all the siblings. It was determined, that she could no longer swallow, and the only way she could live would be to put in a feeding tube. She would then have to be transferred to a higher level of care. Mom was 96 years old and weighed less than 100 pounds.
The family was asked what we wanted to do. This was a choice no one wanted to make. We spoke about her age. We spoke about the good life she had lived. We spoke about the contentment she had with whatever circumstances she found in life. And yet we remembered that when we had celebrated her 95th birthday, she had decided if she had lived that long, she wanted to make it to 100. But, we pondered, how would she have wanted to live those additional years?
Being the nurse in the family, I suggested that her Power of Attorney should be followed, and that we should not put in a feeding tube. There was a communal sigh, as we thought about what this decision, what this choice, meant for us, but also what it meant for our dear mother. I was not willing to stand alone with that choice, so we had a raise of hands of those who agreed. Thankfully, all the siblings were in the same mind-set.
I then asked the physicians if I could take her home to our house, of course to die. Again, all the siblings agreed that if I took her home, they would each come for 8 hour shifts until Mom passed.
A choice had been made. The most difficult choice I have ever made. The last gift that she gave me were the last words she spoke. As I explained to Mom that I was taking her home so that she could go home to Jesus there, she whispered the word, “Why?” I explained that she could not live without a feeding tube and that we knew she didn’t want one. She mouthed the word, “OK.”
When she was brought into our living room, she looked around, and then either in resignation or contentment, never moved again without our help. The vision of Mom in front of our patio door in a hospital bed while we ministered to her will be forever embedded in my mind.
Mom’s last days were surrounded by those she loved the most, and in 3 days she went peacefully to the arms of Jesus. There were no noisy machines keeping her breathing, but with every breath there were prayers reminding her of the certainty of heaven. There were no tubes dripping fluids into her veins, but she was infused with words of scripture and familiar hymns.
What a tough choice we had made. But Mom died with dignity just as she had always lived.