My Blog

My Blog

02

*This is the first of four essays dealing with the death of a parent

We met in August 2014 in Bar Harbor in a hotel room overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Even though he was getting dialysis twice a week for end stage kidney failure and was noticeably weak, he braved the trip from Florida. He knew it would be his last time in Maine, one of his favorite places.

            “When the doctor tells me I have to go on dialysis three times a week, I’ll be getting off completely,” Dad said.

            My sister, brother and I nodded as if we immediately comprehended what he was saying when in fact we had no idea.

            “I should die about two weeks later. I’ll go into a coma and I won’t know anything. It’s one of the better ways to die, in fact.”

            My father was a proud man who hated old people because it reminded him that he was one too. He refused to look in the mirror. He loved life for all it had given him until he turned seventy-five and, after an operation to remove a tumor from his kidney, life turned against him. Then, he resented everything about it.

            “I never wanted this,” he said.

            I knew what he was saying without the words. He never wanted to be sick, to be feeble, to be the man who had to insert a catheter to urinate, who couldn’t contain his bowels, who had to rely on others for basic help.

            He hated, above all, the loss of control.

            So when he announced he would be getting off dialysis, I wasn’t surprised.

            “I think it will be around October,” he told us.

            We nodded, not offering words of affection or encouragement since dad wasn’t the type of man who responded well to sympathy or who craved approval, he only wanted to be heard.

            October came and went, as did the New Year. Dad was still with us, getting weaker and going to dialysis twice a week. His wife, Beverly, was an amazing caregiver, staying on top of Dad’s meds, taking him to doctors’ appointments, remaining by his side every step of the way.

            Last week, Dad informed us that he had chosen a day. April 6th would be his last dialysis.

            I cleared my calendar for the month of April. It seemed like a silly action to take but I didn’t know what else to do to prepare for my father’s death at his own choosing. It’s not suicide, the experts say, because he will be dying of natural causes: end stage renal failure. He is only getting off life support, they explain in a pamphlet called “Choosing to End Dialysis”.

            Choosing to die has always been a hot issue. Dr. Jack Kevorkian made a major impact on the right to die movement, spending years in prison after being convicted of manslaughter in the deaths of about 130 terminally ill people. Brittany Maynard moved to Oregon so she could legally end her life after being diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor. Christie White is suing the State of California for the right to die at home since she doesn’t want to have to move to another state to end her life after battling cancer for years.

            And now, there is my father who is choosing to die with dignity. His doctor will not be tried for manslaughter. He does not have to move to another state to refuse dialysis. He does not have to sue anybody for the right to voluntarily end his life. His wife, myself and my siblings will not get in any legal trouble for not forcing him to continue on life support. He simply has to stop showing up at DaVita.

            My sister, brother and I are extremely sad but we support his decision. His wife is losing her husband and has remained a champion as the finish line nears. We’re spending as much time with him as we can. It’s hard to watch. Dad has little quality of life. One lung has collapsed. His skin is covered with red blotches. Body fat is dripping off of him. His eyes are so watery he can barely take part in his favorite pastime, reading. This decision is very difficult for him but it is the one he has made. When he dies is the last thing he can control.

            Dad will die in April. My calendar is clear.**

**Dad elected to make March 20th his last day of dialysis. He died on April 14, 2015.