Death. It is inevitable yet we don’t speak of it. It is the ultimate taboo subject. For the past few months I knew, he knew, the doctors knew that his death was imminent. Despite this knowledge we didn’t speak of it. It was easier to continue to go to treatments, to talk of the future, to buy quantities of food that would never be consumed.
Until last week when his decline was so sudden and severe that I, and he, could no longer continue the pretense. He had been fighting the cancer with everything he could for nearly two years but when his condition became so much worse everything came to a head in just two days.
The intensity of effort provided a distraction. It was not about death but about contacting people, flying in family, signing papers and a dozen other final details.
Assisted suicide had recently become legal. As a terminally ill patient, he was eligible for the drugs that would permit him to choose when he would die and give him the peace of mind that he would not be alone in his final moments. A natural death was only days, perhaps hours away, but for him the uncertainty was not acceptable.
The cancer had turned his body into a weapon that was destroying itself. The scans showed that the disease had infiltrated nearly every cell. Despite chemo and radiation, doctors had been unable to stop its spread. Though he couldn’t beat it, he didn’t want the cancer to have the ultimate victory. By choosing suicide he was able to win the final battle and have some control over his life, even if it was when to end it.
Surrounded by a few close friends, our daughter and myself he took his last breath. We held his hands and spoke words of love and comfort as he went into a deep sleep before his heart stopped.
Ideally we live a long and happy life. If this is not an option for whatever reason, I appreciate that there are means to choose when to die. However, when we remember him, I want it to be for all the good work he did while among us, not how he died.