The American Feminist
True Death With Dignity
Honey-coated euphemisms for euthanasia such as "death with dignity" seem even more compelling when accompanied by tragic anecdotes. Together they suggest that killing can be a compassionate act. But last year I saw an example of what "death with dignity" truly means.
Lucile Meyer, my mother-in-law, once told me that her goal in life was to have a happy marriage and found children. She succeeded and said often that her best and happiest years were those she devoted to raising her three sons and one daughter. The seeming ordinariness of the path she chose belies the wonder of her fulfillment and her influence on the world through the lives of her children.
In March 1996, Lucile found that the breast cancer she had thought was eradicated in 1989 had metastasized to her spine and brain. At 78 years of age, she decided to have only radiation to prevent the spine tumor from causing paralysis. The treatments sapped nearly all of her energy from the outset. Subsequent tests proved disappointing. No further treatments were scheduled.
In spite of the weakness Lucile had experienced as a result of the disease and the treatment, she was able to stay in her home and found that she could care for herself at first. Several times a day, her three children who lived close by, stopped in to see her and make sure she was all right. She grew weaker and weaker by the day. Within a month of her cancer treatments her children and their spouses started bringing her meals because she had become too weak to do her own cooking. By the middle of June someone had to stay with Lucile 24 hours a day. The family arranged for hospice to help care for her.
Lucile's two sons and daughter who lived in the same town arranged their schedules to ensure that someone was with her at all hours of the day. The other son and his wife spent every other weekend with their mother. The children continued to care for their mother until October 17 of last year, when Lucile died peacefully in her own home with my husband right there. She died as she had lived with dignity.
By the time Lucile died she had become totally helpless. She had to have someone take care of all of her needs. She became confused and frightened sometimes. Her ability to speak diminished and she looked frustrated when it was obvious that we could not quite understand her. Right-to-die advocates may have pointed to her and said she could have been put out of her misery sooner. She would not have had to suffer and her family would not have had to "give up" so much time and energy to care for her. The right-to-die advocates would very likely deplore the quality of life she had at the end, and decry the "unfairness" of the children putting their lives on hold to care for her. But do they really understand what death with dignity is? No.
My husband and his siblings did not feel put upon to care for their mother. While she was dying and many times since then, my husband has remarked that it was a privilege to be able to care for her, just as she had cared for him. They all cherished the waning days and hours that they spent with her. She died with true dignity because she died surrounded by those who loved her best and whom she loved best. Family and friends were able to say their goodbyes. Their behavior toward this dying woman was a testimony to her life. All of her life she had served others and met the needs of those dependent on her. She kept her commitments, marriage and motherhood, as sacred obligations. Everything she did for those whom she loved so well was returned to her at the end. That is death with dignity it starts with a life of dignity.
We miss her very much. We would not wish her back the way she was, but we would not have shortened her time with us by a second. All life is sacred until its last breath. My husband and his siblings are at peace. They did the right thing by her, just as she had always done for them.Earlene Meyer, FFL of Montana
Reprinted from The American Feminist, Fall 1997