Last week I read a story about a 91-year-old couple in Denmark who had been married 65 years. They kissed one another tenderly and then died together holding hands.
I found tears streaming down my cheeks as I read this. Looking up at the picture of Bill hanging on the wall in front of my desk, I said out loud, “That is what I wanted for us: another 30 years, and then for us to go together.” Of course, few of us get to make those choices, and I know Bill would have waited to go with me if he could have.
What struck me about the tender story about this couple was that both of them chose euthanasia, a choice not afforded most Americans, at least not legally. Although I recognize that this is an issue with legitimate moral differences, I must admit that I changed my thinking, or perhaps clarified it, while I watched Bill’s body succumb to cancer.
Fortunately, Bill’s thinking was clear until the end, but he said to me, quite plainly, a week before his death, “I don’t want to live like this.” I didn’t want him to live like that either, but I desperately wanted him to live. Although his body was growing increasingly weak, he was not in pain, so we were not forced to make any decisions other than to let nature take its course. Indeed, it was a decision because the doctors offered to put in a feeding tube that might have prolonged his life for a little while. Was that decision a choice of euthanasia? Yes, in a way.
Bill died the night of my birthday last year, and if I had been given the choice that night I would have gone with him. That choice wasn’t offered to me, and I suppose that is a good thing. For the past year, I have had to think about death and what it means. I’ve tried to write about it honestly so that you can think about it in a less painful context.
In this country, few of us have had honest conversations about death and the right to choose how to die and when. We avoid the entire subject as much as possible until it is too late. With four people in my life in hospice at the moment, I ask you to have these conversations NOW. Think about what you really want, and talk to the people you love BEFORE you have to or before it is too late and they are left wondering if they did the right thing. Dying is something we all must do. If we would stop pretending otherwise we might do it better.
Rev. Michael Piazza