I Wanted Her to Live, She Wanted to Die

Jonathan Rosenberg
Guest Contributor

My mother, who has been living in a retirement community for a decade, is going to be 107 years old on July 24. Both her long and short-term memory are phenomenal. She reads voraciously and can carry on a conversation with both old and young.

My story takes place in the fall of 2012. As a result of the combination of medications she was taking and low sodium numbers (who knew?), my mom rapidly went from high functioning to strong signs of dementia. In addition, she was getting no sleep and was suicidal.

I took her to a psychiatrist who was recommended by a family friend (an MD specializing in the elderly) for an evaluation. He asked the typical questions – “when is your birthday?” “What day of the week is it?” – and my mom was drawing a blank.

I sat there and cried. This is my invincible mother, the one who will live forever, the one who amazes all who come in contact with her. How could this happen so quickly? They soon put her on different medications, and after she threatened to take her own life again, the retirement facility had her taken to the hospital where she was to remain until a bed opened up in a mental hospital ward.

When I visited her, she was vulnerable, frail and hallucinating. She wanted to die. I wanted her to live. 

There will come a time for all of us when we are forced to look at our parents as something other than “mom” and “dad,” when you are the one who might have to make life/death decisions for a parent who is incapable of doing it. This was my time. I was my mom’s advocate as we navigated the rough waters of the medical bureaucracy. The mental health ward of the hospital was truly reminiscent of Cuckoo’s Nest, with people wandering the halls in loose-fitting (that’s generous) hospital gowns, activities like TV and Bingo, and awful food. 

But, she made it through. 

They located the source of her issues.

Once they discovered the sodium problem, they altered their strategies, and she was on the way back to being “mom.”

She can talk about that experience with clarity.

From it, she recognized that, in spite of her fierce independence, she needed me. And I was honored to be there when she did.

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