Three times in my life I have prayed for God to please let someone die. I felt horrible that I could ever even think such a thing, but it happened. In the same situation, I would probably do it again. I felt this way out of love, not out of hate. Let me explain.
My father, my mother, and my mother-in-law all died with Alzheimer’s Disease. It all started with my father becoming forgetful as he aged. He started telling the same stories over and over, but they were good stories. He became withdrawn at first, but eventually he became suspicious and combative. By the end, he was always wanting to go home, even while sitting in his own living room. He got to where he hardly recognized anyone, and wasn’t even sure who he was. The man that was my hero was gone. His body was still alive, but he was no longer who he was. In the early days of his disease, my Dad and I talked about the fact that he didn’t want to live after he lost his mind. Still, he did live. He was miserable. His attention span became less than a minute at a time, and then everything in his world started over. He was a believer, so I prayed that God would stop punishing him, and take him on home.
My Mother was my father’s caretaker. While looking after him, she had a heart episode, and lost consciousness. My Dad stood over her, and tried to wake her up, when she wouldn’t wake up, he started yelling for help. Fortunately, my niece, who happens to be a Registered Nurse came by, heard him from outside and called EMS. It was at this point that my Dad had to move into the nursing home. Every day, over and over, he struggled to make sense of what was happening, and kept wanting to go home, just as he had done when he was at home. He tried, but just couldn’t grasp it. Within a couple of months, my prayers were answered and his suffering ended with his death.
Meanwhile, my mother recovered from her heart issues, but had suffered mild brain damage. I suppose her issue was dementia of some sort, but it all went the same way, just more slowly. As her condition slowly escalated, she started locking herself out of the house. I would hide keys outside, but she would find them and bring them in for safekeeping. One chilly day I got a call from her Sunday School teacher who had stopped by to visit for a bit. There was a gas space heater in the living room that had not been used since we had installed central heat and air a decade earlier. My mom had turned on the gas, and was sitting in the house with her coat on. Her teacher turned off the gas, and waited outside with my mom until I got there. She had another appointment and had to leave. I asked my mom to wait on the front porch while I opened some windows to get the gas out of the house. While I was doing so, I discovered that she was going behind me closing them all. Of course she was turning on the lights in each room as she went. Fortunately, enough of the gas escaped that we didn’t have an explosion. That was her last day in her own home.
A friend from my childhood was the manager of an assisted living facility. They didn’t have a memory care unit, but she said that if I could provide sitters to stay with her, that my mom could live there. That was fine for a while, but, eventually, my mom also had to go into the nursing home. As was the case with my dad, her body was alive, but she was completely gone. At this point, my oldest daughter who was around kindergarten age stopped wanting to go with me to see her grandmother, and I didn’t make her. It hurt my heart so badly to go myself. My mom would tell me that her son Richard hadn’t been to see her in months, even though I had just been there the day before.
My younger daughter Lily didn’t mind the bizarre actions of the older folks at the nursing home a bit, nor the smells. She would ask me if we could please go see Grandmother again. She would get dressed up, and give every old person she saw a big hug, and sing a little song for them. Even though my mom rarely recognized Lily, that little girl loved her. Before Lily started going with me, I would end my visits by sitting in my car and crying for an hour or so, praying that God would let my mother go ahead and die. I don’t know if I could have made it through without my family’s support, especially Lily.
There was this one occasion, near the very end of my mom’s life when I stopped in to see her before going out of town on a business trip. My mom was absolutely lucid for about 15 minutes. We had the best conversation. She knew where she was, and why. She wanted me to tell her all about my wife and kids. She was delighted to learn that things were going well for me. I had her back. It was amazing. Then it ended, and she was gone again. A few weeks later, God answered my prayer and she passed.
My wife was amazing through this difficulty, and took care of managing my mom’s affairs. A few years after my mom passed, we moved to Johnson City from my hometown of Eufaula, Alabama. My Mother-in-law moved up here with us, and got an apartment a few minutes from our house. I was glad that my three kids would grow up with a grandparent that they would remember.
My mother-in-law started down the same path with Alzheimer’s Disease. She lived alone for a long time, but we could see what was happening. We bought a house just outside of Kingsport that had a Mother-in-law apartment built into it. She moved in with us, and we were able to provide her with a quality of life that she wouldn’t have had for five of her last seven years. It was difficult to see her deteriorate and disappear like my parents had done, but I also had to witness the emotional toll it had on my wife and three kids. The kids were troopers, and loved on their grandmother until the end, even when she got to the point that she didn’t know where she was or who anyone was. My brother-in-laws down in Alabama took care of their mom for the last two years before she died, with one of them becoming her full-time caregiver. Yes, I prayed that God would end her suffering.
I cannot imagine a more terrible way for a life to end than Alzheimer’s, or Dementia, or any other mental illness that so completely robs one of oneself. If there are conversations you want to have someday, or things you want to do with a loved one someday, make that someday come sooner, while you can.