Death with Dignity Guest Blog

This guest blog post is currently in submission to the Death with Dignity National Center Blog.


Taking on End of Life Decisions as a Family

Both of my parents had careers that brought them close to the larger issues of life and death.  My mother spent her entire career as a nurse, specialising in the treatment of cancer.  My father was a police officer who worked his way up to becoming a detective who investigated homicides.  Through these two careers they both experienced the extreme fragility of life.

My mother in particular would tell me stories of many nights where she held a patient’s hand as the person passed away.  She would half-jokingly refer to herself as a servant on the Rivers Styx, the rivers in Greek mythology that formed the boundary between Earth and the underworld.

There was one incident that left a deep impression on her.  She was working a late night on the cancer ward taking care of woman who was losing her battle.  She had been fighting for months.  Her family was almost constantly at her bedside, urging her to be strong, to pull through.  My mother could see that she was clearly exhausted at the fight.  The patient’s husband left her bedside briefly to take a break and get a cup of coffee.  My mother recalls that practically the second he was out of earshot from the room, his wife chose to die.  She had signed an Advanced Directive which specified that she was not to be resuscitated and these wishes were respected by the nursing staff.  The husband came back to the room and attempted to revive her himself, but in the end, her choice was made.

It was experiences like these that made our family take on the issues of end of life decisions.  We had a family gathering where we all filled out our Advanced Directives together.  Instead of it being a scary conversation that we all had privately, it was a bonding day where we got to understand what each of us wanted.  We spent the day debating what life meant, at what point is there a hope of recovery, and at what point would death be preferred.  None of these decisions were clear cut and it took a lot of soul searching to put answers down.  For anyone else, it might have seemed odd, but for our family, it was an important conversation about to have about life and death.

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