Shahrazad Ali is a retired writer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
At first Yahya kept his diagnosis to himself. I was raising our then-12-year-old grandson in Cincinnati, Ohio, a safer place for him than Philadelphia; we’d visit each other frequently with the plan he’d join us soon. I kept noticing he was losing weight, so I asked him, “What’s the problem? Are you not eating?”
Finally I learned he had incurable cancer. Yahya was a big proud man, a 27-year Navy veteran, and an active and joyful person. And as the evil disease took over his frail body, he refused to stay in the hospital. He didn’t want strangers to feed him or change his diaper. He detested feeling helpless.
Yahya didn’t want me or our grandson to see his demise and I respected his wishes. But during his final few days, not knowing how long he could hold on, he asked to see us one last time before he died. I took his grandson to see him; they talked, hugged, and made their peace. When my turn came, I told him he’d been a good husband and father and that he was leaving a great legacy. He thanked me, I kissed his hand, he waved goodbye, and was gone. I’ve since come to grips with the fact that he is gone from us forever. I miss him every day.
Both my parents died of a heart attack early in life. They literally dropped dead. I always assumed that’s how death happens — quickly and painlessly. Watching Yahya die a slow, painful death gave me a new perspective on my own life and how I want to die. That’s when I discovered Death with Dignity.
Ironically, soon after Yahya passed, I developed a tumor and even before the biopsy result came back, I had already decided that I was not going to experience what Yahya went through. I want to die on my own terms. I had made plans to move to Vermont when the doctors told me my tumor was benign.
My plan is to decide and set my own terms about how I leave. I’m an independent woman and if death is coming and I have no quality of life left, I don’t want to prolong the inevitable and force my children to suffer along with me. I want to own my death like I owned my life—controlling my destiny.