End Of Life


My mother owned a lot of purses and I don’t, so I use hers from time to time, when I encounter a situation in which a pocket, reusable grocery tote or dry bag won’t suffice. The other day I opened an interior pocket of one of her purses and found a dainty little Victorinox multi-tool, a lighter and a pill case. Rather than having the days of the week marked on each section, the individual drugs were named. There was Imodium, Benadryl, Mirapex, ibuprofen, Ativan, Klonopin and a grab bag of wisely unnamed assorted pills, most of which I identified as oxycodone. And the segments were packed. We’re talking A LOT of pills. And it hit me just what her life was like at the end. These were medications for pain, discomfort and anxiety, and she needed to have them with her at all times.

My mother hated needles. She talked almost every doctor out of ordering blood tests for her. She hated embarrassment, putting off invasive testing until it was far too late. She was dignified and stubborn. Looking at her in the final years, you wouldn’t know how ill she was. She layered her clothing carefully, so you wouldn’t know her guts had been completely restructured. She forced smiles so you could barely see her wincing. She looked refined, carrying herself with an almost regal stance. You wouldn’t know she was enduring constant pain and humiliation, spending hours each day trying to keep herself clean and put together. But looking at that pill case, there was no doubt what her life was like. It was hell.

This made me think of Brittany Maynard, the beautiful young woman with brain cancer who had to move from California to Oregon in order to end her life the way she wanted, and how cruel, divisive and politicized our healthcare system has become. There is no reason why anyone should be forced to continue suffering when there is no hope for relief or recovery. It’s not about quitting or giving up. We let football players run down the clock when the game is all but over. They get to shake hands. No one calls them quitters. We all know they wanted to win.

Terminally ill patients want to live. My mother wanted to live. Look in Brittany Maynard’s eyes and you can see she wanted to live. And those of us who loved them wanted so much for them to live. But when that can’t happen and there’s little more than pain, they deserve to end the game on their terms. My mother was still making plans a few weeks before she died. She still had hope. And then things went south, fast, leaving us all reeling, unsure of what had happened, unable to accept that it was real. It was awful, but it could have been worse. I know she couldn’t take much more of it, and had things persisted in their awfulness, she would have wanted out. And that should have been her right. I will never understand why it’s anybody else’s business what a person does with her own body.

Anywho, if end of life choices are important to you, you may want to check out Compassion and Choices. In their words, “Compassion & Choices helps people plan for and achieve a good death. We work to change attitudes, practices and policies so that everyone can access the information and options they need to have more control and comfort at the end of life.” Sounds reasonable, no? In 2015? I think so. Let’s have a little progress.