When my parents were dying by inches, they were in and out of hospitals like yo-yos. One would go in; the other would go in. One would come out. Before the other came out, the first one would be in again. And so it went for decades.
My solution to all this dying by inches was to visit the maternity ward. All those babies in the nursery, swaddled and sleeping or wriggling their limbs and bawling for food. Life. New life. The replacement for my parents if they’d only finish their journey and leave – for their sakes, not mine.
I spent over twenty-five years on elder care issues between my parents and my husband’s parents. After the last one died, sadly only six years later, my husband dropped at my feet and was gone. We didn’t have much time together after the long slog of parental dying. In his case, there was no time for me to visit to a maternity ward to see new babies. There was only time to sign papers to transplant his organs – eyes, lungs, heart, kidneys, bone, whatever they could use.
Through the transplantation society, I got a letter from the woman who got my husband’s heart. “My disease will kill this heart, too,” she wrote, “but not before I see my children grow.” The transplantation society asked if I could send a reply. I was happy to do so. People who receive transplants often suffer ‘survivor guilt’, the ghoulish process of waiting for someone to die so they can get a piece. So I wrote and told her how her letter and the transplantation process was a gift to me as well as to her.
I’ve learned how important it is to factor in the opposite ends of the life process. The birth and death, the living who are dying from the moment they’re born to the dying who often linger too long. The abruptness of sudden death – a gift to the dead in one way, an abrupt challenge to those left behind to cope.
My own end will come soon. I don’t fear death. I fear what people with the best of intentions will do to me as I’m getting to the point of death. It’s why I want euthanasia so badly. It’s why I belong to a charity called “Compassion and Choices.” It’s why I’ll fight for my right to die as I want.