The Death with Dignity Law became effective in Washington in 2009. I voted for it. But actually going through this with someone you love can make you ask yourself, what in the world was I thinking?
When my brother picked an actual day to die, for a moment I wished the law had not passed. In theory, death with dignity sounds like a good idea. But when faced with the reality it was a shock. I have to admit there were many times during the last few weeks I did not feel like I had any dignity, hence the temper tantrum with an empty peanut butter container.
But, it was only moments. Brief and painful moments. At first I was ashamed of my reaction. But, I think it was something I had to go through. Get it out of my system so I could be there for him.
It was a beautiful morning. Some might find it inappropriate or strange for me to say that. But beautiful it was.
This morning we gathered again. My brother, his wife and kids spent much of the morning alone together. Around 9:00 am, his chosen time, we circled him. Those that wanted to spoke again.
Their family dog said his own good-bye. Once we all stood around my brother the dog ran down the stairs and jumped on the bed next to him. My brother and his wife were holding hands. The dog licked my brother’s hand over and over. The dog jumping on the bed and licking are both unusual actions. After a bit the dog stopped, looked up at my brother very intently for a few seconds, then started licking again. After my brother drank the medicine, the dog then licked the hand of the volunteer who gave my brother the cup. Almost like he was saying “It’s ok, thank you for helping relieve his suffering”.
One of my sister’s gave us all a heart-shaped piece of coral to hold. I know we will all treasure these hearts forever.
His kids were amazing (ages 15 and 17). They stayed by him, touching him. After a few minutes he fell asleep. And snored, which gave us some comic relief. The muscles stiff for so long let go and it was wonderful to see. It had felt like forever before we had seen him like this, relaxed with his back straight and his head up. This disease had contorted him so much. I am glad his kids were able to see him like this again. That one of their last memories of him will be of him looking close to like he used to.
After awhile his breathing quieted. His daughter leaned over and kissed his chest and he made a loud noise. This was probably close to his last breath. It was like her kiss released him.
This truly was death with dignity, a most appropriate name. Despite our tears, anger at this disease, fear of losing him, anquish for his wife and kids, my parents, each other, our selves. Ultimately I wish my brother never became ill. But he did. This is probably the most dignified event I have ever witnessed. I am so thankful I could be a part of it. I am forever changed.