Sunday, October 11, 2015

A Life or Death Decision

(Civil War Sunday is on a hopefully temporary hiatus).

I've never had to make a life or death decision concerning my health, but I know one day, that day will probably come.

For a friend of my mother in law's, that day has come.

Years ago, when my mother in law was more mobile, she used to go mall walking with a group of friends.  Afterwards, they went to a bagel shop for breakfast.

We lived some 150 miles away from my mother in law and her mall walking friends, but were able to meet these friends for bagels and coffee several times over the years.

Even after my mother in law could no longer walk with them, she kept in touch. 

One of her walking friends, "M", owned a beautiful classic car.  He had a great sense of humor.  He was also a man with a heart condition.  Over the years, his condition worsened.  His heart was operating at a fraction of its capacity.  He eventually needed a heart transplant, but due to his age and other issues, he was rejected.

So, instead, he lives on oxygen and medical devices.  It isn't easy.

Now, he's decided that he doesn't want to live like that anymore.  What this means is that he is probably going to die soon.

My mother in law's best friend, one of the mall walkers, called my mother in law with this news several days ago. 

Tomorrow, he is going to have the device he depends on for life removed.

The friend is heartbroken.  My mother in law, who has different heart issues, hasn't shared her thoughts.

Statistically, "M" will probably die within the week.

Non statistically - He could be like the late humorist Art Buchwald, who took himself off of kidney dialysis.  He checked into a hospice.  But he did not die.  Well, not for another 11 months.

Buchwald, whose column I enjoyed from time to time, wrote an amazing book during the last year of his life.  He also recorded a living obituary.

I can not judge "M's decision.  What I hope he gets is the death with dignity he wants, like Art Buchwald did, be it this week or months from now.

We all hope to be courageous when our time comes. We all hope to die with dignity, with no pain, with family surrounding us. I already have the example of family and friends who have gone before me, who made differing decisions. Some chose hospice.  Others chose to fight to the last drop.

"M" has made the choice that is right for him.  This much I have learned over the years.

Have you or a loved one ever been in this situation?


  1. No, I don't know anyone who has been in this situation, but I sympathize. He had to make the choice that was right for him. I hope all in his circle are able to support him. Even though his loss will be hard for them.

    1. I hope so, too. It is going to be hard on at least one of them.

  2. My closest friend is contemplating these issues. Having been with her through years of suffering, I have a better understanding than I once did.

    1. I hope I do also, after being a friend to someone who passed 3 weeks ago from cancer. She had to make so many hard choices and I'm sure your closest friend had to, also. My heart goes out to both of you.

  3. Heartbreaking no matter what your MIL's friend chooses. As I phrase it, we all want to live long and die short. I do remember Art Buchwald and how talented he was.

    1. You're right - I like that expression - live long and die short.

  4. My father passed away nrecently, after a long illness. When does modern medicine help someone to live, and when does it simply keep someone from letting go? As you watch someone spiral down, you have to make the decision when to stop treatment and start palliative care. So, so difficult.

  5. My ex went through this last month. He made the decision not to have life-support or food and it was very hard on my sons. I do believe that quality of life is worth way more than quantity, but until I am actually faced with that decision, who knows.

  6. A sweet little lady I know who is 87 had to make a tough decision: her knee replacement fell apart, and to repair it she had to go through an operation that had only a 50/50 chance of her coming out of it! But she came through with flying colors. So thankful.

  7. That is such a rough call. I was listening to NPR the other day and they were talking about this very topic. Luckily I've never been in this position, but my dad just elected my older sister to be his health care proxy person and we sat down as a family and had a general conversation relating to this. It was of course very abstract as he doesn't have any ailments or illnesses and was just a precautionary measure.


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