We always knew it would happen. Our father said many times that they treat animals humanely and put them down when there is no hope. He made it clear that this is what he believed should be the choice of human beings, to the point that if necessary he would take his own life. And he did.
On 14 June 1994, our father shot himself in the heart with a rifle. He was in the bedroom; our mother was in the kitchen no more than 5 metres away, my 12-year-old nephew in the lounge. Dad was diagnosed with inoperable prostate cancer at the age of 54 with a 10 to 15 year prognosis. He had always been so healthy and active, and in his words: ‘I’ve always been able to fix anything, but I can’t fix this.’
And so began his long battle with an exploratory operation that ended in a careless removal of the catheter that left him ‘leaking’ constantly, but he didn’t give up due to that little hurdle. He devised his own special ‘nappy’ so that he could continue to play his beloved golf. I don’t think they had Tenas then! I can’t remember the exact point when he started to decline but I do remember distinctly his last couple of months.
He had been admitted to the palliative care ward of our local private hospital and was cared for so wonderfully by the nursing staff. At the beginning, he would entertain other patients, and us when we came to visit, by playing the piano (totally self-taught and unable to read music).
But he was being given painkilling drugs that had him hallucinating and we could sense his frustration at his lack of control. He couldn’t conduct a reasonable conversation when friends came to visit.
Even though he had the best of care at the hospital, he was desperate to come home and in the end refused to go back. I learned after his death that he had begged his doctor to give him enough medication to allow him to safely and gently end his life when he knew all hope was lost.
After the initial grief, the anger set in. Why did he have to do that at home? Why did he choose to do it when his grandson was in the lounge room barely 10 metres away? Why didn’t he give me the chance to say goodbye??? Why wasn’t he allowed to choose his inevitable end??? Why did they make him do this to all of us?????????
In amongst all this anger was a realisation of just how brave he actually was. He had written a note which I still have; a small piece of paper roughly torn from a page, upper case letters, obviously written with a shaking hand: I LOVE YOU ALL. ALWAYS DO YOUR BEST. DAD.
I can only wonder at the beautiful memory we could have had of Dad’s last moments; whether he had chosen to have us present when he passed or not, at least he would have died with the dignity that was rightfully his.
- Di Hatfield, first published in The Damage Done, August 2016
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