Dear Annie: I have a 75-year-old friend who was brutally beaten by an intruder. “Jim” allowed the stranger to enter his home when he claimed he needed to use the telephone. Jim suffered broken bones and a head trauma and spent time in a rehab facility. He still hasn’t fully recovered and is mostly confined to bed.
Jim has no close family. He abandoned his wife 38 years ago, and his daughter met him for the first time in October. She is his next of kin, and when Jim was in a coma, she had to make decisions about his care. She is not able to be involved as much now because she lives far away. I’m in touch with her often, so she is aware of her father’s condition and says he is capable of making informed decisions. The police concur.
Jim is alone, depressed and alcoholic. I check on him daily. He’s promised not to kill himself, but he has given up on living. He has very little energy and barely eats despite the fact that food is provided. He just wants to lie in bed, smoke and drink vodka. And that’s my problem.
I have been meeting his requests for alcohol, but I feel guilty about it. I don’t want to contribute to his death by facilitating his drinking, but I fear that depriving him only condemns him to an even more protracted demise. Jim refuses to be hospitalized or return to rehab, because he will not be allowed to smoke or drink, and he wants to die at home.
If Jim is to recover, he needs to stop drinking, eat well and exercise, and it would be such a long and arduous road that he does not believe he can do it. Am I right to make him comfortable? Is this compassion or wrongdoing? – His Friend
Dear Friend: We’re going to side with compassion, but please know what you are getting into. While Jim may tell you he is not suicidal, he is doing exactly that by a slower route. You cannot force him to choose life, but you don’t want to be overcome with guilt and remorse, either. (And frankly, drinking and smoking in bed is a fire waiting to happen.)
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