Estate Planning > Families who chose to ‘pull the plug’ for the end of life: Sveti’s story

Families who chose to ‘pull the plug’ for the end of life: Sveti’s story

The YourLoss team is dedicated to sourcing and providing Australians with free and easy access to relevant and helping information and resources to assist them in all areas of death and bereavement.

In March 2022, Sveti Williams was faced with one of the most challenging decisions she’d ever had to make – to ‘pull the plug’ on her gravely ill ex-husband and relieve him of suffering.

Terrence, had been suffering from liver cirrhosis. He went into an induced coma for two weeks, then made a recovery. But knowing he was weak and may only have a short time left, he appointed Sveti as his Enduring Power of Attorney.

This is a legal process which identifies a trusted person to make personal or financial choices on your behalf when you can no longer do so yourself.

Unfortunately for Terrence, his condition worsened after being released from the coma and he ended up on life support. “The doctors wanted to operate, but they told me he may not make it,” Sveti explained.

Despite getting through the surgery, he remained on life support with documentation in place indicating his preference for resuscitation if his life was at stake.

Health practitioners often find themselves in situations where they are unable to provide further assistance or treatment to a patient if they consider it of no benefit to the patient and not in their best interest.

It was only days after the surgery when Sveti received the phone call she was dreading. Terrence was weak, with little to no chance of recovery. Doctors suggested Sveti give them her blessing to ‘pull the plug’ and alleviate further distress for him.

Sveti recalls the difficult conversation with the doctor: “I can’t be there to see him die,” she said. “But if you have to do it, do it.”

For Sveti, she knew her decision was the right one for Terrence but could not help thinking of their eight-year-old son.

As a child, losing a parent is incredibly tough. Lack of understanding around death and experience coping with loss, blaming themselves, as well as young age are all factors contributing to how children process loss.

Sveti says she questioned everything: “Should I not tell him until the funeral, so at least I can prolong his peace? Do I take him to the hospital to say goodbye to his father, or will that traumatise him more?”

These thoughts may be shared by others in similar situations when agonising over how to explain to a child that their parent is no longer around.

Sveti suggests that parents try to avoid sugar-coating the story. Telling the child exactly what has happened, and even taking them to farewell the parent, will hopefully provide them with some closure.

She emphasises the importance of validating the child’s emotions. If the child says, ‘I miss daddy,’ avoid responses like, ‘it’s okay, you’ll be fine’. Instead, try saying ‘I’m sorry you feel like this, I miss him too’.

This way, the child knows they are supported and not alone in their feelings.

Other helpful strategies Sveti has put into practice with her son to help him cope with his father’s death include meditation, listening to audio books, and counselling sessions.

All of these approaches have helped, but Sveti’s story is just one of many that unfolds across the country every day.

Coming to the heart-rending decision to pull the plug is no easy task, so talking to others who have been in similar situations, and using every support resource available, can be an important part of the healing process.

The information on this website is for general information only and are not (and nor are they intended to be) a substitute for professional medical or mental health advice, nor is it used for diagnosis and treatment. You, or anyone you are concerned about, are encouraged to seek professional medical or mental health advice and treatment from suitably qualified medical and clinical practitioners and providers. 

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If you are in crisis or think you may have an emergency, immediately call Emergency 000. If you're having thoughts of self-harm or harm to others call Lifeline on 13 11 23 to talk to a skilled, trained counsellor. If you are located outside Australia, contact your local emergency line directly.

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End of Life Estate Planning Funerals & Farewells Healing Life After Loss Strategies

The YourLoss team is dedicated to sourcing and providing Australians with free and easy access to relevant and helping information and resources to assist them in all areas of death and bereavement.

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