The 5 D's of Living and Dying Well

This week we have our very first interview on The MOJO Show, where we chat with our dear friend Teresa Wessling. She’s one of our original co-founders and early adopters of the MOJO lifestyle, which you’ll hear more about in our conversation. She’s also the founder of - a website working towards creating a cultural shift: that we may overcome the taboo of talking about aging and death in our families and help ease the end of life process for us all.

On the blog this week, I’ve shared one of her most beautiful and heart-wrenching pieces all about her experience guiding her own mother, whom we affectionately refer to as Saint Patty, through the end of her life, and the lessons she can pass on to us all from that experience. We had the privilege of being with Teresa through much of that experience, and the even greater honor of witnessing the personal transformation she’s created for herself since then. She’s very dear to our hearts and a living testament to all this stuff we spout off about with yoga and determination helping us find the path to personal development and a lifestyle of our dreams.

Be sure to tune in to Episode 5 above to hear Teresa tell this story firsthand and learn about the 5 D’s of living and dying well: Discuss, Decide, Document, Stay Determined, and most importantly, Do.

Here's Teresa's post:

The Most Difficult Decision

As my mother cried out in pain, I called 911.  “Please don’t use the sirens.” I didn’t want to disturb the neighbors.

I grabbed her current list of medications, got into my car, and followed the ambulance down to the hospital.  I wasn’t particularly worried, though it was odd that my mother was complaining of pain in her abdomen.  She suffered from chronic pain, but never near her stomach.  I knew when she crying out that she needed to be looked at right away, and her own doctor was out of the country.

I knew the drill.  As I was talking with one nurse about my mother’s diagnoses and current medications, another was putting in an IV.  When the doctor came, I described to him what had happened, and he then ordered blood tests and an abdominal CT. The nurse administered the pain medication he had ordered, and that would be the last time I saw my mother lucid.

Hours passed as we waited for results.  My mother asked, “Where’s my cat?” and I could only think she was looking for love from Ava, the new puppy we had gotten her just a few months before.   Suddenly, the ER doc flew into the bay we were in and said, “She needs to have emergency surgery. She has a ruptured bowel and I’ve called the surgeon. He’s on his way.”  Wait, what?

Of all the times I had been to the ER with my mother, and all the times she had been admitted, nothing like this had ever happened before.

He ran off, and I never saw him again.  The surgeon appeared soon after, and explained to me the procedure he wanted to do.  The images from her cat scan were not very clear, and there was no determining exactly where the rupture was until he got inside.  There were no guarantees that my mother would survive the surgery.  If she did survive, there was a strong possibility she would remain on a ventilator, or need a colostomy bag for the rest of her life.

I explained to him that other surgeons had refused to operate on my mother, as concern for the condition of her lungs made her chances of survival difficult.  He was undeterred.  I explained to him that my mother did NOT want to be on a ventilator, and that she had a DNR.  I told him that all of this was on file there at the hospital, should he wish to see it.  He was undeterred.  He said, “That doesn’t matter. Things like that are for cardiac or pulmonary circumstances.  This is different.  Your mother needs surgery and those documents really don’t apply.”

I turned to my mother.  “Mom, do you understand what the surgeon is explaining to us?  He wants you to have surgery.”

“I don’t want to talk about that right now,” was her mumbled response.  I took a step back, and said to the doctor, “My father was a surgeon.  I know you guys like to operate, to go in and see what you can do. Are there any other options?”  He said that he could put her on a high dose of antibiotics, and see if that would work.  If she spiked a fever, she would not survive, but he would be there for the next 24 hours so he could come in and operate at any time.  I asked him what he would do if this was his own mother.  He said, “My mother is 92 and still does her own taxes.”  He apparently thought from her demeanor that my mother had dementia, which she certainly did not.  I told him about her 79th birthday, just a few days before, when we had all gone out to celebrate her in style at Mama’s Fish House.  I told him to hold off for a minute, that I needed to think.

I looked down at my mom, and thought back on all the conversations we had had.  She’d had a very sweet roommate once in a nursing rehab center who had a colostomy bag, and my mother had always said she thought that was a fate worse than death.

I knew that despite what this surgeon was saying, other doctors whom we trusted in our hometown, had said surgery was not an option for her… and that had been years prior.  Her COPD was a degenerative disease; she hadn’t quit smoking.  Certainly the condition of her lungs, and her chances of coming off a ventilator after surgery were less than they’d been back then.

What I could not get over was how the doctor told me that all the documentation we had did not apply in this case.  Of course it did.  I KNEW that my mother did not want to be on a ventilator, and I KNEW she didn’t want a colostomy bag.  I also knew that my very worst fear was to have her on life support, and have to be the one to tell them to pull the plug.

I went outside for a minute, just to get warm.  I usually grabbed Ugg boots and a sweatshirt whenever we went to the hospital because I knew how cold it always was, but I hadn’t that day.  I was upset that I couldn’t call my mother’s primary care physician for her opinion, because she was on vacation in New Zealand and without a phone.  I then realized that my best friend from high school’s father was a colon and rectal surgeon.  I called Trissy, and asked her if she thought her dad would mind talking to me.  She said of course not, so I called their house and explained to him the circumstances.

“You’re doing the right thing, Teresa.  You do not want to put her through that surgery.  Even if she does make it, the chances of complications within a few weeks are very high, and it’s a terrible quality of life.  Ask them for a nice room, to make her comfortable, and see if the antibiotics will work.”  I was pretty sure he was telling me to find a nice, quiet place for her to die.

So that’s what we did.  Two amazing friends of ours came, bringing me warm clothes and something to eat.  They sat with us as I held my mother’s hand, and after a few hours it appeared that my mom had “pulled a Patty.” My mother had numerous brushes with death over the years, but she always bounced back.  She looked like she was getting better, so my friends left for home.  The ICU nurse talked with me, and said, “I’m not supposed to tell you this, but you’re making the right decision.  When we resuscitate people, especially the elderly, we often break a rib.  It’s a violent procedure, I would never put my own mother through it.”

I held her hand and said the Hail Mary over and over again.  I told her how much I loved her, and that she was the best mother anyone could ever ask for.  She hadn’t spoken for hours, but she said, “Well, it’s not like you had another one!”

Those were the last words I would hear her say.  I described the beautiful sunrise to her, as it came up over Haleakala. I repeated, “I love you, Mom, I love you, Mom,” over and over.  Within a few hours, she was gone.

That is why this cause is so important to me.  Even with the documentation, I was presented a choice. It had become my decision, and the most difficult decision I hope I ever have to make.  There is a part of me that will always question if I did the right thing.  When I do, I come back to those conversations I’d had with my mother, and the choices she had made, and believe that I did the best I could do to honor her wishes when she was unable to speak for herself.

Check out more from Teresa at Have that conversation.


Finally, we mention in Teresa’s interview that some of the best yoga we can do is simple, and often doesn’t involve asana at all.  Enjoy this MOJO Yoga Preview of Simple Yogic Breathing practice, or try the full practice for free in your first 30 days, along with over 100 hours of high quality yoga and movement practices to help you get your mojo working anywhere, anytime.