I don’t normally post other people’s writing on this site. But this is different. Special. It’s written by my mother-in-law Maggie, about her mother. And what it says has particular resonance for me. There are people I’ve cared about who’ve died too long, and without the dignity they wanted. Like Maggie, I don’t want to be among that number. And especially not because someone else – politician or any other ‘authority’ – denies me my choice.
My mother was 84 when she had a stroke, 88 when she died.
A woman who loved to talk, she became aphasic. Her greatest fear – that she wouldn’t be able to communicate verbally – became reality. She could speak, but what she said made no sense. And she knew it, knew that the words coming out of her mouth were gibberish. She used to beat the arms of her chair in frustration.
I watched when she refused food and drink in a rehabilitation hospital, trying to kill herself, trying to control the end of her life. That wasn’t allowed, and so a naso-gastric tube was forced into her trachea; a second attempt, under xray, managed to get the tube down her oesophagus.
Then I was told I should allow her to have ECT, somewhere between eight and twelve sessions, “Because her kind of depression responds well to ECT.” When I refused, I was told ‘the case’ would be put before the Guardianship Board which might grant the permission I was denying.
My mother decided to eat and drink again and I never knew just what it was that made her change her mind.
I watched her in the nursing home as she shrank, physically as well as mentally. After four years she was bedridden, curled up like a foetus, her hands like claws. Following multiple admissions to a hospital for treatment for pneumonia I was told I could write to her doctor asking for ‘no more active treatment’. I wrote that letter, feeling both relief and horror. And resentment.
My mother had a long dying.
I don’t want to face a death like my mother’s. I want to be able to choose the time and place of my dying. Surely that’s not too much to ask?