Life is fragile when held in the hands of others

By Gail Katherine Ziegler
April 27, 2006

The recent death of my grandfather has led me to wonder about the dignity of death and if there is such a thing as a “good” death.

Terri Schaivo’s ex-husband and parents have both come out with books recently around the first anniversary of her death. This debate prompted questions about the “right to die” and living wills.

Fortunately, my grandfather had a very clear living will, which said no nourishment of any kind. Although my grandmother had the final say, she abided by his wishes and ultimately let him make his own decisions. These were fairly clear. She tried to feed him, and he spit out the applesauce. However in his final days, he had chocolate ice cream and juice when he was thirsty or asked for something to eat.

Somehow through my grandfather’s dementia he knew that he wanted his suffering to end. He had Parkinson’s disease for over two decades which stripped him of his ability to move and eventually stripped away his sound mind.

When we had to move him into a skilled nursing facility, he let us know very how he felt. He thought of his new home as a prison and tried several times to escape. He dismantled the alarm system on his wheelchair using his skills from a career as an electrician.

My grandfather also continually asked about The Hemlock Society, which provides pills in order to end your own life. A friend of my grandparents died two days before his pills arrived in the mail. Even though my grandfather didn’t know my name, he knew he wanted a different life than the one he had.

In a sense, my family was lucky knowing that we were honoring his wishes and letting him make his own decisions about when he was ready to go. I feel that we were able to give him as much dignity as possible in his last days. We also let him choose when he was going to go, which is a deeply personal decision. I don’t know if there is a more personal decision than that.

If we hadn’t respected his wishes, we could go and visit him. I don’t know if he would be able to recognize me. I know he would have resented my grandmother for not letting him go, if he understood the situation at all. He probably would have lost the ability to walk and he would have been deeply depressed and angry.

I don’t know how to relate to Terri Schaivo’s case because she didn’t have a living will, which presents the case for making sure your loved ones have drawn one up. It is ridiculous how the Bush family and the Pope got involved in these people’s lives. It stripped away any privacy that Terri and her family deserved. The death of someone is so personal and should be private.

I am glad that my family gave my grandfather control of his life and also his death and in the end I know we made the right decision by letting him decide.

Posted to the web by Tim Hague

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Gail Katherine Ziegler

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