Do No Harm

QUESTION: I would like to know if my mother died at home, could we wash and care for her, and dress her for bed? Can a person have family come there and say their good byes? My sister thinks the body turns black and blows up and stinks up the house forever. My mother is 100 years old. She had a great life, and now that she is in pain, she wants to get out of this world. I am sure my sister’s fears are not right. I would like her to die in her own bed, not alone in a hospital. I was reading about dying and from what you said, my mother was on her way out of this world very peacefully, when my sister took her to the hospital and put her on IV for seven days. Yes, she is back but she still can't eat or drink much. She is going to physical therapy to get stronger, so she can come home. I think no matter what we put this dear woman through, death is coming. The doctor said her body is healthy. Can a healthy body die if she doesn't eat or drink much? Should we engage her in exercise, even though she says she is tired? Are we putting her through all this exercise program for nothing in the end? She is 100 years old, maybe she just wants to sleep. Is that wrong to let her do? Will she die sooner if we don't wake her up and engage with her? I don't know what to do.

I appreciate your thought out questions and the dilemma you are facing. The majority of our healthcare workers have not yet learned that just because you can do something medically doesn't mean it is in the best interest of the patient to do it. In my opinion this is one of those times. To put your mother through all of the medical procedures, IV's, hospitalizations and rehab seems a misinterpretation of "Do no harm" that is a physician's oath.

As you mentioned what is wrong with letting your mother stay in her own home, own bed, own familiar surroundings, own routine? Nothing as far as I can see. Her quality of life is affected with pain and the diminished capacities of her age. Peace and familiarity is her best medicine now. Let her eat what she wants or doesn't want, sleep when she wants to or doesn't want to, engage with her surroundings when she chooses. Let her life unfold as it will without medical intervention. Let you and your sister's gift to your mom be a gentle, natural death in the surroundings she is familiar in.

I would suggest that you ask your mom what it is she wants. It is her life so she needs to be making the decision of how to live it. If she is unable to communicate her wishes I see that as a sign in itself as to the quality of her life.

The question then becomes what are you and your sister wanting to achieve by putting your mother through the discomfort and disruption to her normal routine? Are you extending her bodily functions at the expense of her comfort? Is her body breathing but her mind not really interacting? If there are mental and emotional connections on her part, what are they? These are all questions for you and your sister to explore. Sometimes we just want our mom here on this planet with us no matter the quality of life she has. Selfish, yes, but oh so normal.

In regards to your question about keeping your mother in your home after her death. There are state regulations and your funeral home can answer any of your questions. I believe it is appropriate for you to wash your mother's body, dress her and have family come to the house and say your goodbyes. Hug and kiss her body, crawl in bed with her and be close if you want, all before you call the funeral home. You do not need to have a service in church or a funeral home. You can say your goodbyes at home.

Now timing is a factor in doing this. The body will start to get stiff in a few hours so you need to dress her shortly after her death. In the few hours before you call the funeral home there will be no swelling, no smell or "blackening" of the body. You are not going to keep her there for days, only a few hours.People across the country are having in home funerals and visitations and very pleased that they have done it. Here are a couple of links to information about in home funerals. Go to the Huffington Post link to find many stories about home funerals.
This is a link to the National In Home Funeral Alliance website

I am sorry to say, your mother will die. Because of her age it will be sooner than most of us. Whether or not you feed her and exercise her she will die and in the not too distant future. Most of us don't live to be 100 and even fewer of us live past it. How lucky she has been. How fortunate you all have been to have her this long. I certainly understand why you don't want to let the remaining time she has left with her family to be unhappy, painful, stressful and alone.

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