I have tended a lot of dying relatives. My mother, my mother's sister and my father's sister all had varying degrees of dementia in their last years and months. It was heartbreaking to watch them struggle; caring them for them took all the strength and courage that I had. My Aunt Marion, the last of my charges, had an inoperable cancer, macular degeneration, emphysema and incontinence. Experience had taught me a lot by the time she came into my charge. The instructions I laid out at the nursing home included a comprehensive DNR (Do Not Resuscitate), including instructions that she not be taken to hospital, and permission for morphine for 'comfort'. She too died peacefully in her sleep, but it took a few months. My daughter and another aunt took turns with me, sitting with her. If I had had to do it alone, I think I would have broken.
The hardest thing for me is that my memories of these loved ones as competent and vital women are overlaid with images and experiences of their debility. I have to fight past a vivid mental picture of my mother in her last day of life, frantic with pain, frightened, a tiny figure of bones and white skin, to see her as I want to remember her. My aunt, much the same, I fight not to see her with her head lolling back against the headrest of her wheelchair, jokes and stories all gone, waiting to die, her clawed hands limp in her lap. This aunt was an artist and her hands were beautiful, skilled, graceful, producing marvellous cartoons and paintings. That is how I want to remember her and that is, no question, how she would want to be remembered.
I do not want to leave a memory like that for my children and grandchildren. I do not want to spend my last days with them knowing that they are struggling, that visiting me is heartbreaking, that their grief is compounded by my debility. I do not want to become their task, their burden, their nightmare. What I want is a legal way to take my own life while I still have the mental and physical capacity to do so. What I want is a quantum change in medical ethics and the law of the land that will allow me to die with dignity, my own mistress still. My kids are not going to like that either, I know well, but I believe that such a death would leave a clean wound, not a festering, lingering sore.
If the law will not change to allow me access to a nice lethal pink pill, I want my children to give instructions for no medical intervention and lots of morphine with a clear conscience and then go home.
To a blogging friend who is living this, my love.