Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Is there a right way to die?

First, let me preface this with the fact that a) I spent almost all of today in bed. And b) I have pain pills coursing through my system. Because is there a better time to discuss some heavy topic? Well, yes, but today I'm going to assume no.

Brittany Maynard
At the start of this week, I read that Brittany Maynard had passed away. In Oregon. On her own terms. On Monday, I also read about Lauren Hill, who over the weekend got to play in her first (and last) NCAA game. Because she is dying of incurable brain cancer.

I also read a lot of opinions on Facebook, on twitter, heard people talking about it.

There seems to be a lot of strong emotions here.

I heard that Maynard was brave, strong, suicidal, dumb, stupid, made a mistake, left with her dignity in tact, thought of no one but herself, was selfless in her act.

Lauren Hill
I heard that Lauren Hill was amazing, a shining example, was going to live life for every last second she had and how wonderfully brave and amazing she was.

I also read how some people couldn't help but wonder why Maynard was not being more like Hill.

I've got to tell you, these two stories have unleashed a whole well of emotions inside me that I'm not sure I knew were there.

I've got to also tell you that I think both women, yes both of them, are incredibly brave and honest and have done exactly the right thing.

And I've got to tell you, that I'm sitting here wondering: who the hell are we to judge? Who gets to sit and decide what the right way to go is? And why are so many people talking about how (at least one of these women) did it all wrong?

Look, I don't know what I would do if today one of my doctors sat down and had to tell me I wasn't going to live much longer and there is nothing they can do at this point, except help with pain.

I imagine that I would crumble, just crumble under the weight of it all. And I would terrified - absolutely terrified. And I would be so angry at all that I think I would miss. I want to cry right now just thinking about it. Or at least go grab my kids and hug them. Because how can I leave them?

I imagine that the family and I would do something crazy - like a two week trip to somewhere we've always wanted to go. And maybe parties, while I was still up to it. And then as the illness progressed, there would be a pull back ... no traveling, but movies on the couch. No parties, but a few friends over. Until even that would be too much and we would all squeeze in on my bed to watch a movie together and only close friends and family would come visit. And there would probably come a day where cuddling wouldn't happen as it would be too painful.

I can imagine all of this, because even though I've never been told I was going to die, I've been pretty sick. And I have certainly had those moments of let's just screw it all and go somewhere, all the way down to I want to cuddle with you right now, but if you touch me, I will cry in pain.

And both sides of the spectrum are a weird, strange, unknown place to be. There are unknowns.

On the darker side of this spectrum, the side where sickness and not feeling well and unsure of what's going to happen next side of things, are some pretty awful emotions. It is scary. It was scary for me to go through. I know that it was frightening for my family to watch. They don't talk to me much about it, but every so often my husband will say something about it and it breaks my heart.

I don't think I would do what Maynard chose to do. But I don't think she made the wrong choice. She did exactly what was right for her. Just as Hill is doing. Just as I hope I can do when the time comes.

Death is scary. I get that. I don't want to die. I don't want my family to die. Or my friends to die. I don't like to think about it.

But, I also hope that if and when the time comes, I can die in a way that is right for me and my family. And that if it should be someone I love, that I can be there to support them in whatever way they need me to.

Because I don't believe there is a right way to die. And there isn't a right way to grieve some one's death. At the end of the day, most of us are here, just doing the best we can with the cards we've been dealt. If we are lucky, those around us will be there to support us, to offer us comfort and peace, even if they don't want their end to look the same.


  1. Anonymous9:55 PM

    I love what you write, always!

    What I thought about Brittany is what you said....who am I to judge? And's non of my business.

    But both of these women have been in my prayers, as are you always, my sweet friend!

    Love you! Sue

  2. This is beautiful and incredible and goes deeper than I've been able to think about this topic. Thank you for your words today. I hope the pain subsides soon.

  3. I hope you are feeling better soon.
    We have this pretty amazing friend, you can watch a short film about him here: He's lived with ALS for 11 years. In that time he's written and sold scripts in Hollywood and made two movies, had 2 kids. It's very inspiring. He's an old friend of my husband and when I first met him I pegged him as just about the most optimistic person I've ever met. That attitude has carried him through.

    And yet, it's very tough on his family.

    I watched one grandma grow old and sick with severe dementia and another grow old and sick due to arthritis. In fact I spent much of my tweens and teens with their "imminent" deaths hanging over our families. The grandma with dementia was in a nursing home unable to care for herself (my mom was advised that it would be dangerous to have her live with us), for something like the last 12 years of her life. The arthritis grandma barely left her bed, let alone her apartment for the last 5 or more years of her life. I would not want to repeat that for myself or put my family through that.

    When I was diagnosed with RA around age 35 (just like my grandma!) I had a really rough year or two. For some of this time, I felt like I was living in the body of a rickety old person. At one low point I could not even open a new box of cereal because my hands were so swollen and stiff. I shuffled around slowly because my feet and knees were also stiff and swollen and it was all very painfully physically as well as emotionally. I had visions of spending my life like my nana (indeed, my dad's primary narrative about her from his early adulthood on, was the tremendous pain she suffered). There were some very low days, but now that I'm well-medicated that's all like a bad, fuzzy dream.

    Where am I even going with the rambling narrative? Basically- it's not for us to judge their choices and I support the right of a person to choose death with dignity (while also realizing how tricky this can get from an ethical and legal perspective).

    As for you, missy, hang in there. Hopefully, 10 years from now, you'll look back like me and think, "Wow, I can't believe that was me."


Seeing your comments makes me smile! Thank you so much =)