Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Little That is Noble

My mother's biggest fear was going old and senile, of losing her marbles before her body shut down. She would, from time to time, remark that she wished there was a bottle of that "special Tylenol" in the top of the cupboard, referring to the Tylenol cynaide scandal of the early '80s, just in case she started to slide into dementia. Those jokes were kind of half jokes / half wistful thinking living in a state where any sort of assisted suicide would be seen as punishable to the greatest extent of the law.

My mother, brave and strong and tough as nails, weathered some of the greatest heartaches life had to dole out, the final coup being a diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer one week shy of her retirement. She dug in, for us, and tried to stave off the cancer that would inevitably kill her. She tried, beyond probably her own desires, to stick around as long as possible.

And the end was a shitty one. The entire process, honestly, was a shitty one of doctor's appointments and side effects and loss and not knowing, really, when to say "when". She did it for us, true to her form of putting her own desires last, loving the people who needed the comfort of a few more months or days more than her own need for peace.

We talked through the "special Tylenol" options, downloading Final Exit only to discover that the options were to put her physician friends in professional peril or die of suffocation, her worst nightmare. I remember sitting on the ottoman of the big chair where she spent most of her time, walking through the options with my sisters, her shaking her head at each one. That was about the time when we decided hospice was the best option and things went downhill on icy skates.

In my mind, there is little that is noble about the way we treat the dying in this country. There is little noble about asking someone to suffer a horrible end or to be drugged nearly unconscious until her/his body fails. There is always the question of when to say goodbye, because there is always false hope. There is always the question of what to do, how to be, what to say, who to involve. I brought David and Ava in to say goodbye to my mother in the final days of her life. Ava clung to her father's neck crying "That's not my grandma! That's not my grandma!" while David buried his head in my waist. I don't know that I can forgive myself for that failure as a parent, for giving them that fearful last look at someone who loved them so deeply, who was hilarious and full of energy and love all of their lives. Instead, my mother was a shadow of herself, incoherent and frightening. 

What a beautiful thing it would have been to have had her pass on her own terms, our small family with her, her having said her goodbyes in her own way. She could have kissed and hugged all of her grandchildren, she could have had a final drink with her sons in law, she could have given each of us girls a special kiss on the cheek and held our hands as she did in quiet moments. Yes, that night would have been one of the hardest in all of our lives, but she would have gone out strong. She would have been herself. For those of you who knew my mom, you know what I am talking about. On her own terms, just like she lived her life.

I watched this video from this beautiful young woman who is now living in Oregon so she can end her life with dignity, vibrant and true. People faced with a terminal illness want and deserve a choice in the matter of how they live out their final days. I can't say this much better than it's described in the video, but I honor her choice as it may some day be my own. 

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