I am not a religious person. I’m not even sure I believe in a higher power, let alone one true God. Even so, for the past several years I often find myself praying.
When I do pray, it is always about my mother who has Alzheimer’s disease.
My prayers are never about reversing or even improving my mother’s condition because it is simply too late. She is entering the latter stages of dementia and has already lost so much cognitive ability. Even with all the research and focus on Alzheimer’s, there is no cure and not even effective treatment or drugs that will slow the progression of this elusive disease.
Alzheimer’s is a dark, bottomless pit.
Instead of a magical cure, I pray for an end to my mother’s life. I ask God to ease her into death, and do it soon.
Ironically, Mummy, as her family often calls her, is in remarkable physical health. At age 92, she takes few medications and is ambulatory. In fact, with the aid of a walker, Mummy strides up and down the halls in her care center, sometimes for hours.
When she is walking the halls, Mummy often appears to have a purpose and a destination in mind.
But looks can be deceiving.
Up close, it is immediately apparent Mummy is locked into a prison from which there is no parole. While Mummy may not have major physical ailments, there is no doubt that she is suffering terrible mental anguish. Alzheimer’s has wiped away most of her brain, including her memories, personality and ability to communicate. Every day she seems to withdraw a little more, and I’m no longer sure she even knows I am her daughter.
Mummy’s dignity is also ebbing away. She now needs help with everything — even the most basic human functions.
At this point, I believe she is simply existing in her body.
Mummy’s situation is especially ironic.
If anyone knows how tragic Alzheimer’s can be, it is my mother. She lovingly cared for my dad — who also had the disease — at home for many years. Before my dad showed signs of memory loss, Mummy had been the primary caregiver for her own mother who had some form of dementia. Then, she managed the care of her brother, a lifelong bachelor, who had probable Alzheimer’s.
Mummy experienced the devastation of Alzheimer’s disease firsthand. Time and again she told my sisters and me that she did not want to continue living if she had advanced memory loss.
How can I help fulfill her wish?
Although I’ve seriously pondered it, there is no legal way for me to help my mother die.
Even if we lived in a state where choosing death is an option, Mummy would have to possess the mental capacity to make this crucial decision and then personally carry it out. Sadly, she is far beyond the point of making any decisions, especially the choice to end her own life.
However, I believe individuals will eventually have more control over how and when they die, including decisions of how long to be kept alive with severe dementia. It is long overdue.
Until then, I keep praying — just in case there is a higher power.
God, it’s me, Nancy. My mom is ready. Please help her die.