Dying With Dignity

by Patty James

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Almost overnight, it seems, names such as Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the Hemlock Society, euthanasia and assisted suicide have become household words. Media voices have echoed them. Together they have become a strong influence in the effort to convince people that "mercy killing" should be legalized.

These voices claim to represent compassion and sensitivity. Their concern, they say, is for the infirm, the elderly, the terminally ill and their families. No one need face years or months or even days of being sick or infirm. No one should have to suffer through the awful dying process. And besides, who would want to be a burden to their families, emotionally or financially? Isn’t euthanasia/assisted suicide the logical, common-sense, compassionate approach?

Many people insist that euthanasia/assisted suicide is "death with dignity". Because of the knowledge I have gained from faith and my own family life, I know they are wrong. Euthanasia is killing a person.

I am 15 years old. I like to go to the mall, to movies and dancing. I swim and play tennis. I can talk on the phone, listen to the radio and do my homework all at the same time. I am pretty much a typical American teen-ager. Why should I be concerned about euthanasia/assisted suicide? Recently, something happened in my family’s life that has made me feel the way I do and moved me to speak out.

My nonstop teen-ager routine came to a sudden halt. Homework had to wait. Phone calls, trips to the mall, tennis -- all were put on hold. Nana died.

My grandmother’s dying and death taught me the true meaning of "death with dignity." I know she would want me to tell about what happened for her and to our family.

It is true that for Nana the last months were hard. Her 10-year battle with cancer had been difficult. But we were all grateful for those years. A lot of exhilarating, fun and, yes, sad things, too, happened for Nana.

During those years, my grandmother and our family had taken care of Papa, who had Alzheimer’s disease. The love my grandmother and grandfather shared made an impression on everyone they met. Three years ago Papa died.

During her last year of life, Nana prepared for her own death. Our family prepared, too. During those final months some very wonderful things were happening in our family.

Nana’s children and grandchildren sacrificed their own time and energy. They set aside personal plans to be there for Nana every possible day. They cared for her, encouraged her, took her fun places, laughed with her and kept her in touch with everything that was going on.

This is dying with dignity.

The doctors and nurses, the people from hospice were so kind to my grandmother and the family. Medication was given to keep Nana free from pain. My brother, a physician, said that thanks to the pain medications available today, no one need suffer. Nana’s comfort was a priority.

This is dying with dignity.

Family sacrifices were the rule. One of my cousins and his family gave up their vacation to be with her. He would hold Nana’s hand, kiss her forehead, comb her hair. He talked to her about his two little girls and his wife, who was going to have a baby in the Spring. "I love you," he would say.

"I love you, too, honey," she would softly answer.

This is death with dignity.

Nana’s closest friends came to say goodbye. They were a wonderful support. They brought hope, love and joy to Nana and all. Nana’s pastor came every day to pray with and for her; so did the chaplains at the hospital.

This is death with dignity.

During those last weeks of Nana’s life, the family gathering place was her room. Family prayed with her, cared for her, loved her. Many memories were shared. Stories were told. Even picture albums were brought in and talked about. Little by little, Nana was slipping away. She had to know and feel all the love that was surrounding her.

This is death with dignity.

Neat things happened during those last few days. The family grew closer. Little differences and hurt feelings were resolved. There were a lot of warm hugs and encouragement. Even hopes and plans for the future were made and shared. Anyone coming into Nana’s room could not help but feel the love that was there.

This is death with dignity.

When her breathing became very, very shallow, to the surprise of all, Nana opened her eyes. Those present smiled down at her, held her hands and told her how much they loved her. They told her, too, how much God loved her and that she was going home to heaven. At that, Nana closed her eyes and took her last breath.

This is death with dignity.

Yes, it was sad. But it was happy, too. I will miss Nana, so much.

I believe that one of the greatest gifts of love Nana gave to me and to all in our family, she gave when she was dying. There is so much more love in our family now. Death doesn’t seem so frightening any more.

In the words of Mother Teresa, "Death with dignity is to die with grace, in the knowledge that [you] are loved."

I am convinced that euthanasia robs a person and family of all the good that can result from the natural process, in which so much love and peace can happen.

Posted 6 Sep 2000.

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Copyright 1998 by Patty James
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