This was inspired by an article I read in The Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday 8 October 2011, titled The good short life written by Dudley Clendinen, who discovered when he was 66 years old that he had a fatal disease. He talks about the profound lessons he learnt, about friendship, about love, about life, and about when to bow out gracefully. It took me back to 2009 when I too was preparing myself for an early death, and the same lessons I learnt of all the things he talked about, but mostly the lessons I learnt about myself. After receiving the same news, I spent many frenzied weeks sorting, shredding, tidying up my life, getting rid of the many things I had kept for future rumination. I wrote letters to my children, spent hours talking to my husband about love and loss, what would happen to him and our sons after my demise. Many of my special friends came from places all over Australia to visit, some helped each week with transport and support. My parents became more open with their love. It was a time of searching within, of yearning and learning.
However, being told my days were numbered was one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. It forced me to sharpen my focus on what is truly important, encouraged me to tell the people I love just how much I love them, opened doors to a new and exciting bundle of creativity, introduced me to some extraordinary and beautiful people I may have never met, and made me so much stronger. It has allowed me to walk the talk of all the motivational and inspirational things I have been learning about and aspiring to for what seemed like the whole of my life! It seems I am beating the odds; the motor neurone disease we were told I have has not progressed for over a year; perhaps the diagnosis was wrong… who really care! The symptoms of my dementia, my husband tells me, are slowly getting worse, but do not fit the clinical picture presented by my latest MRI Spect scan or neuropsychology tests. The things I am doing to fight this disease are working, at least for now so of course I will keep on with my battle. And what the hell, we are all going to die one day.
Thinking about the final stages of my own terminal illness has made me more fully consider my position on euthanasia or assisted suicide. This is a topic I have been considering, and been for and against, on and off, for almost all of the 53 years of my life! When I was young, my Christian upbringing encouraged me not to support it. Then when I went nursing and saw the devastating suffering of the dying, I believed it should be legalised. In 1985 someone I loved took his own life, and after this, and my experience of this type of loss, I decided the grief of euthanasia might be the same as that of suicide, at least for those people who don’t believe in euthanasia and so, I was once again against it. In 2008 I researched the topic for a major essay at university, and at the end of this process, was more confused than when I started! I do believe however, that if we treated animals like we treat the dying, in many cases we would be on the front pages of the newspapers for causing extreme suffering and cruelty.
Now I have faced my own mortality, I believe, [I think!?] that people should have the right to make their own choice, especially because for many it may take away the burden of suicide grief. The drugs used in palliative care, the care of the dying, are very powerful. I know this for sure as I was prescribed them when my health was failing. They do block out the pain, but they block out most of everything else… so perhaps if this time comes again, it might be the time in my life when I’ll take up marijuana? For me, when the time comes, rather than active euthanasia or assisted suicide, I’m pretty sure I will simply refuse any medication or treatment that prolongs the inevitable, and salute you all, say bon voyage and enjoy the next journey.