Is it wrong?

So much of my response to Mum’s dementia begins that way. “Is it wrong to…”

  • Wish she’d died before Dad
  • Wish she’d wind up in hospital after a fall or infection (because then someone might actually be able to treat her)
  • Wish she’d fall unconscious and not wake up (because she’d be happier that way)

But today’s the big one. It’s Mum’s birthday, and she is 80 years old. And more than anything, I hope she doesn’t make it to 81.

Is that wrong?

Let me tell you a little about Mum’s life.

She doesn’t know where she is, and keeps begging us to take her home (but she also did that when she was still living at home – waiting for her parents – dead these 30-40 years – to come and get her).

She bullies the other residents. One in particular she has taken a random but intense dislike to, and she is rude and abusive to the extent that the poor lady stays in her room to avoid the vitriol.

She doesn’t recognise photos of my Dad anymore – the love of her life, the intense focus of her whole existence, is gone from her memory, along with her children and grandchildren.

She is angry, afraid, upset, or distressed the whole time.

The staff can only medicate her by putting pills in her tea. She refuses to allow any kind of medical examination so the GP is guessing on diagnosis, treatment, and dosage, from a safe distance.

She staggers from bed to table, sits blankly clutching her handbag, surfacing occasionally to snarl at someone.

She is miserable. This is not life. It is slow, drawn out, torturous death. It is needless, unbearable cruelty.

The irony is that even if euthanasia were legal she would never have seen it as an option – not one to look reality in the eye, she was insisting my Dad would live forever right up until the day he died, even though we clearly saw his death marching on him inexorably. He was barely functional by the end, but even the week before he sent me an email berating me for my concern, and saying he was perfectly well and expected to live a long and happy life.

Terrified as Mum was of the dementia that claimed her father, there is no chance she could have admitted it was coming in time to prevent it with the only weapon we have – a peaceful, dignified death – even if it had been an option.

It fascinates me that we insist, as a society, on forcing Mum to live this miserable, traumatic life, but we do it by locking her, and others like her, away from the public eye. We refuse to countenance a peaceful exit, but we’d rather not look the reality in the eye.

Unless we are lucky and Mum turns out to have some undiagnosed health issue that eventually gives her the only freedom we can hope for, Mum will gradually deteriorate. She’ll wind up in bed, unable to feed or toilet herself. Unmoving, unresponsive, and undignified. Just as her own father did.

And this, we say, is out of respect for life.

But this is not respectful, or compassionate, or dignified. This is not life.  This is fearful, arrogant, and cruel.