Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace

If you’ve been to the doctor lately, you know one of the questions they routinely ask is whether you have an Advance Directive on file. If you haven’t filled yours out yet, please put it down on your “To Do” list as a priority. It doesn’t matter if you are a young adult or a senior. Leaving something like this undone can cause you and your family untold suffering in the event you are unable to speak for yourself.

My grandmother never had an advance directive, also called a living will. Many people in her generation didn’t. But after the Terry Schiavo case in Florida, things changed.

I was very close to my maternal grandmother. Perhaps it was because we formed a bond during the first three months of my life when she cared for me during what the medical professionals thought was my mother’s post-partum depression. Beyond that, we spent every summer together at our lake cabin in Minnesota, where my father would drop us off in June and join us during his vacations and weekends.

Late in her life, my grandmother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma – a type of cancer that forms in the white plasma blood cells. It was a devastating diagnosis.

Five years later, I got a call from my mother, who was at the nursing home where my grandmother stayed during the last month of her life. “Grandma is dying,” she said. “You had better come.”

When I got to the nursing home, my mother told me grandma’s heart was growing very weak. The circulation was so inadequate that it wasn’t able to get precious blood to her extremities any longer. She was also unable to speak at this point.

What I remember most were her eyes. They were deep, dark pools that locked onto mine and wouldn’t let go. I didn’t know what she was trying to tell me. I told her I loved her with all my heart and didn’t want to let her go. I began sobbing at that point and couldn’t stop.

When a nurse came into the room, I asked, “Do you think my crying is upsetting to my grandma?”

She replied, “Probably.”

Oh, no! I didn’t want to upset my grandma during the last moments of her life. I kissed her, apologized for crying, turned around, and walked out of her room. I would never see her again.

I cried all the way home. I still cry when I think about it. I’m glad my mother was there to be with her. She was more stoic about it.

People do things they usually wouldn’t do under emotional stress. I left my grandma on her deathbed because a nurse told me I was “probably” upsetting her. I don’t want any of my children or grandchildren making decisions based on what a nurse says if they are with me during my death, and I am unable to speak for myself. I don’t want them basing their decision on what a stranger says, nurse or not. I want them to know what my wishes are.

I finally filled out an advance directive. I did so mostly because this experience with my grandma bothered me so much. In it, I told my family my final wishes if I could not speak for myself. The last thing I told them in the document was that I didn’t mind if they cried, that they should stay with me, and not leave me to die alone.



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