By Carolyn Rosenblatt
I'm sure Myrtle (not her real name) didn't mean it. She didn't mean to create a monster. She wanted her lawyer, Sharon, to be the agent for healthcare, together with her out-of-state son. She was worried that her daughters would want her to get more treatment than she cared to get. But they never talked about it. The rational conversation never took place. Myrtle was uncomfortable with it, so she just skipped that part of her responsibilities.
Myrtle got sick and had to go to a nursing home as time passed. Her son, Reggie, never visited. It was just too much bother for him. Instead, he hired a care manager. Sounds like a good idea, usually. But this particular care manager was more interested in collecting her monthly fee than checking on Myrtle, to really find out if she was safe in that nursing home.
Myrtle had two daughters who lived nearby, and were close to the nursing home. They visited often. Sharon (the lawyer) didn't want them to know what was going on with their mother. She was convinced that Myrtle's daughters would "interfere" and ask for care their mother didn't want, so she made sure they couldn't ask for anything for their mom.
She gave orders to the staff at the nursing home that they were not to talk to either of Myrtle's daughters, ever. The daughters visited often, hoping that Sharon wouldn't stop them from seeing their mom, which she could have done. Between the two of them, they saw their mom nearly every day for six years. No nurse could ever tell them how mom was doing, because of Sharon. They were forbidden to ask anything of the doctor in charge.
Mom, under the "care" of the lax and indifferent care manager, developed a pressure ulcer, stage 4, the worst possible stage, with bone showing through the open sore, while the care manager was supposed to be checking on her and being sure Myrtle was taken care of properly. Sharon took no responsibility. It made her daughters sick. They reported it to authorities and they complained to the state. As long as the power of attorney was the lawyer, no one would act.
The daughters fought back. They hired their own lawyer and tried to have a conservatorship imposed by the court. Their lawyer was inexperienced, Sharon knew what to do, and it didn't go well. The daughters lost. Now, Sharon turned on the daughters with a vengeance.
She became a monster. She did everything she could to keep the daughters from getting information from any doctor, nurse, or even hospice once comfort care was brought in toward the end of Myrtle's life. Sharon forbade the daughters from talking to anyone to find out if their mother was dying, and how much time she had left. She seemed to enjoy her power and control, and liked that the daughters were forced to call her, the Almighty Sharon, and not a doctor or nurse, to find out if mom had a week or a month or a day to live.
And Sharon didn't visit Myrtle to keep up with the information the daughters wanted. She was "too busy." She said she didn't believe Myrtle was really dying because she'd been through this before, and Myrtle rallied that time, and lived on.
You could almost hear Sharon laughing about it, gloating, and enjoying the daughters' frustration and distress.
"They have no rights as daughters," Sharon almost shouted, when asked why this was so. She smugly and viciously used the power of attorney to get back at the daughters for questioning her authority. It was an ugly nightmare for the daughters. All this was done in the name of Sharon doing what their mother wanted, according to Sharon. She used her legal authority to abuse the children of her client. And there was nothing they could do to stop her. She was the power of attorney.
Was there anything more these daughters could have done to at least be able to find out if their mother was dying? No, not with Sharon in charge. She was hateful, and it was perfectly legal.
Sharon forced the daughters to go through her for any reports on their mother's declining condition. Never mind that she seldom talked to the doctor and didn't know. Sharon didn't care. She got to have control over a lot of people and she was thrilled by this.
Getting POA Before a Parent Gets Sick
What can all the rest of us learn from the daughters' nightmare?
The lesson here is to take the time to have an honest conversation with adult children about appointing a power of attorney before you lose your ability to make decisions. Disease, dementia, strokes or anything else can cause you to become incompetent.
Be open and honest. Don't be afraid of hurting your kids' feelings. Talk about all of it. If you go outside the family to appoint anyone as your agent for healthcare, be sure it is a compassionate person who will work with, and not against your family.
Myrtle didn't do that. She then became incompetent as time passed. No one could change the power of attorney after that. Her choice to use a lawyer was an unfortunate one, because this particular lawyer knew just how to twist the law for revenge. Sharon was an angry, maladjusted person. Be careful whom you trust. This was a terrible choice of power of attorney!
Although the facts have been changed somewhat to protect the persons in this story, the essence of it is a real fact situation with real people and real horror and pain for two sisters whose mother was dying in a nursing home. The lawyer was clearly abusing her authority out of ego, and perhaps rage and hatred. She made victims out of everyone.
Most lawyers can be counted on to do the right thing. This was an unusual case, as the lawyer refused to consider anyone else's point of view. Sharon was asked to go to mediation to try to resolve the fight with the daughters. She scoffed, and almost laughed at the idea. She was right, they were wrong, and there was nothing to mediate, in her mind.
This was a tragedy that could have been avoided. Myrtle could have met with her kids, discussed her end-of-life wishes and asked them to all cooperate. The daughters would have respected that. They loved her. Instead, she lived her last days with daughters who suffered from being kept in the dark about her dying. It was grief on top of grief, and they will never forget the horror.