Jill Sanders is an account clerk at a community college in Albany, New York.
My mother and my father were both ill with cancer at the same time nine years ago.
My mother who lived in New York was battling advanced colon cancer. She underwent multiple surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy. As she neared the end, we had wonderful conversations—we didn’t leave anything unsaid, we made up for old arguments, we had some laughs, and I got to say goodbye.
She spent her most of her last days in the hospital on a feeding tube with antibiotics. One day the doctor said. “There’s nothing more we can do here.” He suggested hospice to help my mother live out her days as comfortably as possible.
I asked about how long he thought she had.
He said he really couldn’t say, “It could be weeks or it could be days.”
My mother piped up and said “I’ll settle for days!” She didn’t want to just hang on, dependent on a feeding tube and in discomfort and pain. She had been through enough and was ready for it to be over. I wished I could do something to end her suffering, but we just had to wait. Once her feeding tube was removed, she lasted five days. I never left her side.
She had more friends than I could ever count (we had a family business in town). Many would call every morning to ask about her, and when they heard she was still alive, they’d come later that day to visit her. Hundreds of people came through, holding daily vigils. It was awful to see the horror in their faces when they came into the room. She no longer looked like herself. She was on so much morphine she wasn’t aware of the visits, couldn’t even say hello. I know she too would have been horrified to know they saw her wither away like that. She’d have preferred to be lucid so she could say goodbye.
Even though we weren’t religious, I had a wake for her. I wanted to see her one last time the way she used to look, the way she would have wanted everyone to remember her. She was beautiful inside and out.
Meanwhile, my father who lived in Nevada, was dying from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. While my mother’s illness was fast and furious, he lasted for three years, clinging to every ounce of hope as he lived every morning to see the sun again. He’d say, “I just want to see another summer,” then, “I just want to see another winter.”
I am floored that Death with Dignity is not an option everywhere. I am sure my mother would have chosen it and my father would have not. You get to make your own choices your whole life, why can’t you have that at the end?