Saturday, September 1, 2018

A Matter of Life or Death

("Could I Kill My Mother?")

My mother would not have wanted to live like this. Day after day, year after year, unaware of her very surroundings, unable to communicate her thoughts, incapable of attending to her needs. It was a helpless, hopeless nightmare that drained her financial resources and the emotional reserve of my sister and myself.

And yet, even had our mom been able to plead with us to end her most diminished state of being, we would have been powerless to comply.

Is this what our society demands, this act of seeming cruelty in watching a life fade away in this manner? Do we demonstrate respect, compassion, caring or is our moral compass askew when we wring our hands, hold our heads and our tongues and watch in silent agony as this plays out in excruciatingly slow motion?

For my mom, it was nearly a decade in this alternate universe, one in which everything that mattered most in her existence was taken away, piece by piece, and hour by hour until all that eventually remained was the physical shell.

And when it ended there was sadness not only that she was gone but that she had lingered so long in this ever declining state. Sadness knowing that this would never have been the way she chose to say goodbye, never have been the way she wanted us to see her, never have been how she chose her final act upon the stage to play out.

There is something fundamentally wrong, something wholly undignified, something disrespectful in our society's mandate on the issue of the sanctity of life no matter it's ultimate definition. Continued existence, whatever it's four corners, our only command.

For my sister and myself and for the many millions each day whose story unfolds in similar, painful watching and waiting, waiting, waiting there is the perpetual question of whether we are doing to, rather than for.

And whether the crime we commit is in keeping those we love alive instead of helping them die.


Anonymous said...


I am sure the underlying piece will get an outpouring of response.


Pam said...

When we are kinder and more humane to the pets we love when it is their time... then to the people we love.. there is something very wrong...

Anonymous said...



Paul Bilsky said...

Look for my comment in the Times;

Beautifully written Sarah. You are not alone. My mother died a year ago this month. She was in physical rehab most of last summer with AFIB and COPD. While she was not in pain every chore was hard. She was able to come home for three weeks in early September and it appeared as if she might pull through. At 93 she loved her computer and her gin. Then after one glorious day where she felt fine, she suddenly was Very sick again. We brought her to Sinai where she toughed it out for a week. But they called one morning to say her breathing was so hard that they brought her to ICU. She made it a day, but on the next she looked at me and asked, "Am I going to die?" I couldn't lie. Like your mother she was aware of everything and wanted to know facts. An hour later she said she didn't want to die, but did not want to live like that. "Have them knock me out" she demanded. "You'd like morphine?" I asked. She nodded. I consulted the doctors who agreed to start a drip, but it would take a while to begin. When I returned to her bed 45 minutes later, she wondered where the morphine was. I had to explain that I could not just go to CVS and get it. But they started and she began to fade. This was her 94th birthday. She had chocolate ice cream and died the next day. She went out on her own terms. I was luckier than you in that I had doctors who knew what to do. It made it easier, but I was so glad I was able to help.
PS. when she was 16, 1939, she wrote a paper on the benefits of euthanasia.

Anonymous said...

Well said.


Anonymous said...

The Inuits who find that they are a burden to the community or fading mentally get on an iceberg and float out to sea


Anonymous said...

My sentiments exactly.


Anonymous said...

All of us who have had eldercare responsibility face this dilemma
I personally don’t want that for myself
I have told my kids that numerous times
Hopefully they will get the message