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October 6, 2015 / 23 Tishri, 5776
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When You’ve Done All You Can

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During a recent Shiva call, the topic of competent medical care was discussed. The deceased was an elderly woman and her children and spouse wondered if the medical system had done all they could for her or if her age had played a factor in determining the type and amount of care she receive at the hospital. The family felt that it had. They said that they had discussed treatments with the doctor that hadn’t been administered, found out once it was too late about other means of dealing with the medical situation and, in general, felt that if they had acted differently their loved one might have been alive today.

It did not help the family sitting Shiva that some of the people who had come to lend solace and console them in their time of grief told them that they should have done this or that, now after the fact. And though all this may be true, in the end, it is important to remember that it is Hashem that rules this world and when it is our loved one’s time there is nothing we can do to change the result.

Having said that, it is important and comforting to know that we did all we could with a system that is frightening, overwhelming and foreign to most of us. A system that intimidates us easily and sometimes even bullies us into agreeing to decisions we do not agree with.

But how do we determine when we have done enough? Chances are we will always feel we could have done more and should have tried this or that.  But, we are human and limited by the boundaries of the circumstances we live in. A young mother of six children all under 15 with a chronically ill husband who is hospitalized, no family in town and a job, can truly only do so much. She cannot − and should not − compare herself to how another well spouse, who is older and retired, handled a similar crisis.

The retired woman’s children are probably adults who may live in the same city and can share the visiting and decision-making. One may be computer literate and able to research the illness and look into alternative means of care.  The only commonality in these two scenarios is that both women are well spouses.   For anyone to expect both of them to be able to handle the situation in the same way is naive.

For them to make this comparison of themselves is precarious and fraught with misguided and inappropriate expectations. To do this can only lead to feelings of guilt and inadequacy.  Because their life styles are so different, and where they are at this point in their lives is so different, their approach to dealing with the illness will be very different. And while the younger woman may wish she could do all that the older woman is doing to care for her loved ones and deal with the medical system, it is a fantasy. She is limited by her reality and needs to know she did the best she could at that point in her life.

Each of us is an individual with all kinds of differences and we all cope differently. Many caregivers are just too exhausted to fight with the system after fighting with it for so many decades, no matter where they are in their life’s journey. Most of us trust the doctors to do their best and most of the doctors do their best, but it may not be enough to keep our spouses alive in a crisis.

More important than whether you decide to accept what the medical system did was the best that could have been done for your loved one, is for you to accept that you did all you could for those you love, based on your situation at this point in your life. To “beat yourself up” because of others telling you how you should have handled the situation, or even expecting yourself to do more than was possible for you to do at the time, not only doesn’t help, it causes pain to everyone around − but is also mostly not true. And, most important − you must take comfort in knowing that whatever happened was meant to happen and it is Hashem who rules and decides the outcome, no matter what we are able to do.

You can contact me at annnovick@hotmail.com.

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