By Ox Drover
A thought struck me the other day as I was musing … many people today have at least thought about how they want things to proceed when they come toward the end of their lives. Do they want to be “kept on life support” with feeding tubes and ventilators and lying unconscious in an intensive care nursing unit?
Is that kind of “life” really anything but prolonging drying? Or, is it possible that if you stayed there with mechanical life support, that you might actually wake up and heal, and go on and enjoy more time in a healthy life? Many of us have made decisions which we have placed into “Living Wills” and have appointed someone to be our decision maker if we can’t make our own decision at the time. (BTW if you don’t have a living will which is legally valid, your nearest relative or your spouse will be automatically appointed.)
When the time came to make the decision about providing life support for my husband with the terrible burns he had, between the medical knowledge I had about his chances of survival (zero) and his wishes, there was no decision to make, nothing could have helped him live longer, only prolong the unavoidable.
In my career as a registered nurse practitioner I have watched families vacillate over whether to put their loved one on mechanical life support, to take them off, or put in a feeding tube or to take one out. I have seen them cry and fight and have seen childhood jealousies come to the front to make decisions which should have been made by a cooler head.
Life support and psychopaths
As I was musing about these physical end of life life-supports, I thought about the fact that sometimes in my relationships I’ve done the same thing. I’ve kept a relationship that was essentially “brain dead and suffering” on life support, loath to let it die a natural and peaceful death by just not sustaining it artificially any more. Hoping against hope that it might improve if I just gave it enough time and energy. Later realizing that I had expended a tremendous amount of energy sustaining this relationship which only became sicker and sicker, sucked away resources I could have used for other more positive things.
Looking back, hindsight is always 20/20, I can see that I kept my relationship with my psychopathic son on life-support from the time he was 17, and when I went to the local jail to get him, as he walked up to me and my husband he said, “What the f&%k took you so long?” At that time, I said to the jailer, “Sir, there’s a problem, this isn’t my son, because my son wouldn’t talk to me like that, take this young man back upstairs.” Right then I had seen the relationship was dead, there was no mutuality about it, there was no respect for me, or for my position as his mother.
But I couldn’t conceive that my relationship with my son couldn’t be somehow miraculously saved by some magical miracle so that “everything would be all right.”
So because I couldn’t stand the thought or the pain of pulling the rest of the life support for the relationship, I put it back on life support and kept it there for decades after that. Even when it took turns for the worse and he wound up not just in juvy jail, but it big-boy’s prison for a felony robbery, then back again for murder.
I kept on refusing to let myself disconnect from the corpse of our relationship, refused to let it die a natural death , and feel the grief. In my prolonged denial of how seriously flawed our relationship was, I tortured myself with hope. Hope that was unfounded on reality, malignant hope that my son might survive inside this corpse of a soul.
Had to pull the plug
Eventually there came a time when I realized that the relationship was not repairable. I could not, medicine could not, nothing could fix the relationship, and in addition the relationship on life support was poisoning everything about itself—including me. It was requiring all the energy I had to keep it as the living dead. It was a source of contagion that used my energy, infected other relationships around it and me. I had to pull the plug and let it go, in order to survive.
I actually had a memorial service for the boy that was, the little boy I had grown to love so much, oh gosh was he cute, but he’s no longer living, and my relationship with him is only in my memory. Just as my late husband and I are only in my memory. Yet, by letting both of them go, and doing the appropriate and painful grieving, I have released those good memories to be enjoyed and loved the rest of my life.
Nothing should outlast its time. When something is dead or broken and can’t be fixed, it is time for us to let it go. Cherish the memories if we can, but let the rest of it go.