When to Die

Jack - Greensboro, Georgia
Entered on November 7, 2006
Age Group: 65+
Themes: death

Marvin died within seconds after the injection. Our veterinarian softly uttered, “There’s no charge.” My wife, Nancy, cradled our cat as I drove home. He was old, had a terminal illness, and suffered. Once a humane society kitten, we buried him with tears and honor. A stone and daffodils mark his grave.

Nancy died of stage-four cancer on November 27, 2005. She was 66. Amid bodily anguish and horrid consciousness she pleaded twice: “I wish someone would give me a shot and I could go to sleep.”

The hospice nurse came two days before. During her initial visit, she discussed with Nancy her living will, in which Nancy directed that “the application of life-sustaining procedures to [her] body, including nourishment and hydration, be withheld or withdrawn and that [she] be permitted to die.”

For Nancy, there was no “shot” — only liquid morphine sulfate. Day and night I put measured doses under her tongue. Twice, though, she suddenly arose in bed, eyes wide staring at me, and screamed.

I’m haunted: What horror slouched through her soul?

She went through the stages of death for three days. Her temperature elevated, then she became colder as blood was being preserved by her failing organs. There is a death rattle: a gurgling sound produced by air passing through mucus in the lungs and air passages. Her breathing became difficult as her courageous heartbeat accelerated.

Some 48 hours after the hospice nurse was satisfied that all was in legal order, my beloved Nancy succumbed.

This event, one year ago, forced me to face what I believe about my death. My belief is only five words. By comparison, the Apostles’ Creed is 117. My believe relates to my will when facing end-of-life. For indulgence, I cite a recent, admired affirmation: “I’m the decider.”

I, too, am a decider. Especially when it comes to my death, I determine when I die — even with home care and state-of-medical-arts pain palliation. This I believe.

No religious principle or secular authority gives life.

By I not being due to deity or birthed by a sovereign unit, my existence belongs to me. Consequently, I decide at the end-of-life to either prolong being, or not to be. Hamlet understood.

One’s life is the only reality not requiring the seal of religious or secular authority for veracity. Because I think thus, I believe in the ownership of my life — especially when I’m on the verge of death.

After all, it is my life’s death!

“I am,” I cried. “I am,” said I. And I am prepared to die — now.

Dying is hard horror. Fear and dread best describe mortality. It does not take Dylan Thomas to remind me to “rage against the dying of the light.”

But when death and annihilation are obvious and imminent, and I’ve said good-bye, maybe, I do not want my final assertion of my being barred. Specifically: denied by religion or state or combination.

And it won’t. I hope.

This I believe.