Death, Compassion and Humor. Not In That Order

Hi Kathy, we’ve got the two letters from your mom’s doctors, so you can come in and sign the DNR.

Oh, great. OK. What time? Noon? OK, I look forward to it. I mean, I’m not looking forward to it. Um, you know what I mean.

And that is how I made the appointment to sign my mother’s death warrant. Over the past eight years, I have had to make many incredibly difficult decisions on behalf of my mother……………………. some are more difficult than others, some can leave you curled up in a ball in the middle of an ER. Signing the DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) was an easy decision to make, by easy I mean, I would remain upright as opposed to curled up in a ball crying……………………….. of course, my mom already had a legal document stating that she did not want extreme measures to be taken to prolong her life………………… what she did not have was an actual DNR, an orange piece of paper that the paramedics look for before going above and beyond to save a life. It took me a couple of months to actually get this taken care of…………….. yes, I knew what to do, I knew what needed to be done, but getting it taken care of………..well…………….asking her doctor to write a letter stating that she has a terminal disease with no chance of ever recovering can kind of fuck you up………………. psychologically speaking, of course.

So, I made an appointment for myself instead.

Great to see you…. you look good. What’s can I help you with?

Well, you know I still have that weird pain on my right side; I’m still constipated, but that’s probably stress; and I need you to write and sign a letter stating that mom’s dementia is terminal and stuff. It’s for the DNR.

Sitting in his office, making my request……………. it just struck me as funny………….I don’t know, the whole experience was sort of Seinfeldesque in nature.

Finding the humor in my suffering, our suffering, is, I suppose, a survival skill……………. it’s what helps me cope with my walking grief………….I actively try to seek out the funny. I have to; it’s what keeps me sane, because to experience this kind of sorrow day-in and day-out, with no relief in site, no source of comfort, no regular family support, no hope that she’ll one day be cured, well, that dark, depressing vortex can appear inviting after awhile…………………… because face it, getting out of bed to watch death dance around my mother as she languishes in this life is neither healthy, nor is it how I like to start out my mornings………………..

But I do.

You do.

It’s what we do because it is the right thing to do.

Even though we’re all on the verge of folding our hands.


Hi Kathy, good to see you, come on in…………………. I walked into her office and sat down, ready to sign the DNR. It didn’t feel like a big deal, after all, I’ve signed plenty of documents absolving the medical community of all responsibility should they accidentally kill my mom……………………….. it was just another piece of paper. Until she started reading the paper and telling me what would happen if (and when) something happens to my mom. There will be no cardiac compression, no endotracheal intubation, no artificial ventilation, no life support drugs or emergency medical procedures……………… the words sit in your gut for a while.

She handed me a tissue.

I signed the document.

She signed the document.

The witness signed the document. She touched my shoulder and left the room.


I am convinced that we confuse compassion for pity……………… compassion is something else; compassion takes time…………. pity, however, is much easier to dole out. Compassion is a rare quality which few possess and I now understand why. People don’t want to talk about this disease; they don’t want to witness it; they don’t want to walk in your shoes; and they don’t want to take the time…………… this is compassion as I know it: A former colleague sent me an e-mail after learning that my mom was being housed at the psychiatric unit last February. Although he had never met my mother, nor did we keep in contact after I left my job, he offered to sit with my mother. He said, “I have an extra set of hands and if it is in my power, I would like to help.”

That is compassion.


Interview: Charles J. Dyer, Esq.

One of the most important things to do after receiving a diagnosis is to get your family’s legal house in order. Below, Charles J. Dyer of Dyer & Ferris, LLC in Phoenix, AZ talks to My Demented Mom about what should be done so you and your parent are legally protected:

MDM thanks Mr. Dyer and Dyer & Ferris for this interview.

Charles J. Dyer, Esq., for the Law Firm of Dyer & Ferris, LLC in Phoenix, Arizona

After receiving a diagnosis of dementia or, more specifically, Alzheimer’s disease, what should the family do from a legal standpoint?

The first thing that should be done after a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s has been given is to see if powers of attorney were done prior to the diagnosis being given. An individual will want to make sure that both durable financial and medical powers of attorney have been done. If the powers of attorney are in fact in place, then the family members of the affected can function under the powers of attorney.

If no powers of attorney have been executed and the subject has no lucid times when he or she would be considered competent to sign a power of attorney then and in those events consideration must be given to filing guardianship/conservatorship proceedings with the court.

If the financial power of attorney is in place, but one needs authority to give medical consent, then they can go to their state statutes and look for the statute within their particular state or jurisdiction which refers to “Surrogate Decision Makers” and complete an affidavit giving notice that the affiant is assuming duties as a medical decision maker.

Why is it so important to consult an elder care lawyer upon receiving a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia?

Lawyers who emphasize and are knowledgeable in elder care and the applicable statutes related thereto can give quicker responses to questions because they will not have to do special research to become knowledgeable with elder law matters.

Who should make legal decisions on behalf of the ailing parent? Can more than one person make those decisions?

“Who” is usually determined according to the order of priority set forth in the statutes of each state, and alternatively if there is any person interested who has the time and the knowledge of what must be done to give the incapacitated person a good standard of care and service then that person may receive priority.

What if you can’t afford a lawyer’s services, what can one do?

Check with the court in your jurisdiction that handles this type of case and inquire if they have any forms to assist the individual in representing themselves. If the specific court does not have any forms, then see if any forms are published by the county or state bar association. Finally, one can do research in the county law library to seek answers to their questions; they may request the service of a volunteer attorney program, the state agency on aging or a similar government agency.

If you had to make a list of things to do, again from a legal stand point, what would be your top 3 and why?

1. Verify the loved one’s diagnosis and possibly get a second opinion regarding the diagnosis.

2. Make arrangements to receive a medical report from the medical provider.

3. Make a search for powers of attorney with regard to the loved one affected (ask a spouse, adult children, close relatives and friends if they are aware of the existence of such a document.)

A person will want to do these things immediately because they are the least expensive, most expedient methods of providing care for the incapacitated. The last resort would be filing an action in a court of competent jurisdiction. This is the last resort because of the expense involved in such a proceeding.

** Please note that ALL persons over the age of 18 should have a general durable power of attorney for finances and for health care written by or obtained from some knowledgeable source so that all or as many problems as can be anticipated are anticipated before tragedy strikes. Once a person is 18 years of age, the person’s family members (parents) can no longer make decisions for them, hence if tragedy strikes and no powers of attorney exist, a family can be subjected to lengthy court proceedings in order to handle their loved one’s affairs.

Charles J. Dyer, Esq.
Dyer & Ferris, LLC
3411 N. 5th Ave., Ste. 300
Phoenix, Arizona 85054
Phone: (602) 254-6008
Fax: (602) 257-4276