Article by Elizabeth Mapstone
How many people actually ask themselves how they would treat their elderly parents before finding themselves in the tricky position of feeling a decision must be made immediately? Crucial moments often arise at exactly the wrong time for both parents and well-meaning daughters and sons. It is
worth thinking about the options, and giving everyone the opportunity of expressing their opinion before the decision moment arrives.
It was nearly six years from the moment my late husband and I decided we really must move from our idyllic but isolated rural home in Cornwall to somewhere more practical. My adult children were sad to lose a favoured holiday place but sympathetic. They all lived in different parts of the
country, and it was difficult for us to see how we were to choose.
Deciding where you will end your days
Making a decision so crucial as where you will end your days demands a clarity of vision available to very few of us. We cannot know how or when we will die, but we do know that we will. Most of us find that so tricky we try not to think about it at all. In the end, I thought about it for the sake of my husband, who was 16 years older than me and somewhat impractical. Eventually we moved together to a smaller house in Abingdon, 6 miles from Oxford where we had both gone to university. I was incredibly lucky, for I was soon to develop life-threatening disabilities, and suddenly that question of how you treat a parent who needs your help became very meaningful for us all.
I have three adult children, all of whom in their different ways have helped me enormously over the past dreadful couple of years, when I became very ill, and then my husband died. We had talked rather vaguely about what we might do if life became rather more cruel than we were used to. But
nothing can make the actual event easy.
Practical aspects of difficult situations
Two of my children prefer the more practical aspects of a difficult situation, and let me assure them and everyone else, having those around you who can deal realistically with the real-life problems is a blessing.
Once the hospital accepted that my husband wanted to die in his own home, and we could administer whatever drugs were necessary in the short time left, my two practical children moved all the furniture out of what was to be my husband’s room downstairs, piling it in my study and in the garage.
Essential work and something I could never have managed on my own.
I was allowed to stay with my husband over night, and my younger daughter stayed with us throughout the following day, waiting for the hospital to release him. When he clearly began to suffer pain, and my calls for help seemed to be ignored, she set about galvanising the appropriate people until he was given better pain relief that lasted. Not easy. All the nursing staff were very kind, but it did seem that they had far too many jobs and too few people to do them.
We fully expected to leave the hospital early that evening, and everything was ready at home – including a bottle of champagne in the fridge as per instructions from my husband. He wanted the end of his life to be a celebration not a wake. But to everyone’s dismay, the supplies of gas my
husband needed were not to be delivered until the following day. My son came to collect his sister, and a bed was made up for me in my husband’s room. His courage was ebbing, and I feared this might be a wait too far.
It can be hard on the family
By eight o’clock the following morning, it was clear that various people in the hospital had decided to overcome the delay as rapidly as possible, the missing bottles of gas were delivered at home, and my husband was prepared for departure. I have no memory of the journey, only of my lovely children having prepared the downstairs room for our arrival, and of my husband’s finally discovering that extra bit of energy that allowed him to drink champagne to us all at 9.30 in the morning!
Two months later, my own body appeared to take revenge – a bit hard on family who always rally round. My son-in-law has done our rather belated tax returns, for I failed to think of that in the midst of everything, and now I don’t feel capable either. The only thing I *can* do is what I am
doing here. I can write.
So just in case you find your body lets you down as you age, it is worth considering your options before it is too late. Being realistic is a good idea!
The Porcupine’s Dilemma by Elizabeth Mapstone is out now.