Robin Toole is a retired clinical social worker and an advocate with our partner organization, Arizona End-of-Life Options. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.
Kindness and Conviction
Being the eldest child in a Midwestern dairy farm family afforded my husband, Don, an opportunity to practice a multitude of balanced values. He learned early on the difficult lessons of self-sacrifice, hard work and, most of all, compassion towards all living beings. He translated these values into a life of non-judgmental kindness and caring. He developed a strong conviction that no life should ever have to end in suffering. This was his life’s mission.
His sparkling eyes and warm smile were noticed by all, along with a strong desire to help others. He had many passions and talents that he shared generously with people in his life. He was an avid musician and an athlete.
He cherished life despite having to overcome many challenges. However, he refused to allow these negative experiences to define him. He persisted in his kindness mission. His spirit was and remained unbroken.
A search for answers
When this energetic, vibrant man was stricken by mysterious symptoms – severe, persistent pain radiating from his inner ear to his jaw and head and difficulty swallowing – he fought hard to find answers. His doctors were stumped, and while they searched for a remedy for over two and a half years; in the meantime, the pain and suffering were taking their toll on Don.
Unrelenting Pain and Suffering
By the end, he was unfortunately suffering unrelenting pain, had difficulty eating and speaking, experienced partial deafness and became very weak. His suffering grew, and he was no longer able to enjoy quality of life from his many passions.
Finally, one week before his death, he was diagnosed with a rare form of throat cancer which was attacking his nerves. his vital signs were too weak to allow adequate sedation. He laid in the intensive care unit, helplessly frightened by this bodily invasion. He wrote me a note confessing that he had never experienced such terror.
The Final 24 hours
The intubation was removed after 24 hours and he went home with a gastric tube inserted for feeding. His body was wracked with pain and swelling, he had difficulty breathing, and he felt constant fear. The hope that he had held onto for years was now dashed by this new reality and loss of autonomy.
No Other Option
Having no ability in Arizona to receive medical assistance in death, Don took it upon himself to end his own suffering with a single gunshot. His death shouldn’t have had to be a violent one. This man who gave so much to others should have been given a compassionate option at the end of his life.
I am blessed to have been married to this wonderful man. His life’s mission and values were an example to me and many others.
Control at Life’s End
I believe that anyone who is terminally ill and facing similar circumstances should be given the option to have control at life’s end. I urge Arizona lawmakers to pass medical aid in dying in Arizona.
A version of this story appears on the Arizona End-of-Life Options website.