I love life. I am not depressed. But I am stashing away pills so that I can end my life one day.
I have ten auto-immune diseases, two of which could kill me. I am not prepared to put myself through the kind of slow and painful death that my mother endured during her fight with lung cancer.
Mum was a very proud and fiercely intelligent woman who died without the dignity that had been so important to her in life. She was so proud that she would be horrified to know that I had told anyone of her final six weeks. So for that reason, I’ll call her Peggy* and keep her surname confidential. Peggy was a mother of six and a member of Mensa. She loved a tipple at the end of the day. Being a Kalgoorlie girl, it was always a beer for her and Dad, both enjoying a bottle in the evening. I remember the two of them getting merry and dancing around the table when I was a young.
Mum was very weak and in a lot of pain when she went to hospital – about six weeks before she died in 1996. I visited her in the morning and saw that she had coughed up blood all over her nighty. I wanted to change her but a nurse told me to go home, assuring me she would put her into clean clothes. When I went back in the evening I saw mum was still in the same nighty and was wearing soiled underwear. Mum was highly embarrassed and upset at being so dirty.
I immediately checked her out of hospital – against doctor’s orders. My four sisters and I knew how important it was to mum to die with as much dignity as possible, and that just wasn’t going to happen in hospital. So we took her home and watched her around the clock.
Her palliative care could not have been better, but the morphine did not fully stop the pain.
She used to cry out in pain like a baby. It was not only traumatic for her but also for the grandchildren. We had to restrict the times they could see her. Mum also found it very difficult to let us shower her. She would just close her eyes through it all.
I remember playing cards with mum and my sister in her final weeks and she kept nodding off to sleep. She surprised us by suddenly opening her eyes and snapping at us: “Well, if you are going to cheat I’m not going to play with you.” That was Peggy to a tee. The cancer destroyed her ability to breathe properly, walk, shower and eat, but she never forgot how one should behave. She always had high standards. It was devastating for her to have those standards slip in her final weeks.
Peggy would have preferred to take a pill six weeks before she died, to save herself the pain and indignity of that final month and a half. She was an atheist, and had no spiritual qualms about ending her life, and no-one in my family would have begrudged her a peaceful dignified end through an assisted death.
I had a great aunt once who said her life had become a giant waiting room. She couldn’t go anywhere or do anything. She was just waiting to die. When that happens to me, and when I am crippled in pain, I will end my life.
SB, April 2019
*names have been changed