“What if we had taken her home instead of having her in the nursing home? Would she still be living?” This is the thought that lingers, the one with which I continue to struggle. At the time having my mother in a nursing home seemed like the best decision based on all of the variables we had to consider. After she died, I started questioning it. It’s been almost a year and a half since her death and only recently that I’ve been able to start letting go of the “what if.”
The “what if” is alluring, it assumes (emphasis on assumes) that if something else was done a more favorable outcome would have transpired. Maybe we made a poor choice and the next time we are in a similar situation we can choose better. What it also assumes is that we are in control, even though we are throwing ourselves under the bus by taking the blame for the result; however, that is preferable to thinking we have no control at all.
I understand this on a professional level. For example, in abusive homes children will often blame themselves for their parents’ actions, thinking that if they were only better the abuse would stop. This seems incredible and hard to swallow until we look at the issue of control and how frightening it is for kids, or adults for that matter, to believe that there are times when things are out of our control.
It is uncomfortable for me to think that there was nothing else I could have done that would have made a difference in her living or dying. On the other hand it is somewhat liberating. What if my efforts are not measured by whether she lived or died? What if my job was to just be with her and not to make her better?
Up until the last month of her life, I could not believe that she was dying. There had to be some well of reserve left in her to pull out of it. But as she continued to decline and I came to accept that she was dying, our talks became different and I stopped trying to fix her. I asked her about her thoughts about dying and she shared them with me. I let her know it was ok for her to go. I asked her if she worried about my sister and me. She asked me about my support system. These talks were difficult and I often felt very sad during them, but I also felt a lot of love. Speaking honestly with each other and addressing the truth leaves me with no regrets or “what ifs” in this area.
I would like to give myself the same amount of grace about the decision we made to have her in a nursing home. When I look at the information we had, the number of people with whom we consulted, the death of my father the month prior, and the stress of her sudden decline, our decision seems sound. But my feelings and this nagging doubt aren’t based on logic. I think about how she cared for us and my father. Would she have put me in a home? Will someone eventually do the same to me? How will I go out of this world?
These are big questions and ones for which I have no answers, but maybe that’s the point. The point is what do I do with uncertainty in my life? It is an opportunity to let go of my illusion of control. It is an opportunity to make the most of the time I have left. It is an opportunity to connect with others, as somehow these fears are less frightening when I share them. Finally, it has opened me to develop my faith and a spiritual practice. When I look at these possibilities the “what if” seems smaller and less potent. What if I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be?