Adrienne Dare is a retired college professor in Silver City, NM. This story first appeared on the website of Death with Dignity National Center, and we reprint it here with permission.
In 2002 my 90-year old mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She underwent radiation to try to reduce the tumor, but had to stop the treatment because it was too painful. But even after she was on hospice her pain couldn’t be controlled with medication.
I was able to be with her in Albany, Oregon, for her last two months. She was a quiet, shy, private person who didn’t like to talk about herself. But the pain medications changed her and she became very talkative. She even talked in her sleep, repeating, “I love you, I love you all,” as if she were practicing because it wasn’t something that came easy for her to say.
We shared intimate conversations. There were some very special moments, too. She shared with me a letter she’d written to my father, exclaiming she’d never been as happy as then in her life. And she gave me an onyx heart, which father gave her when they married and which I’d never seen. I asked about the damaged portion of it, and she told me I’d teethed on it.
It was clear Mom was ready to die. She went to the doctor and made her first oral request for death with dignity. Hearing that made me cry but I knew that’s what she wanted. “Adrienne, don’t cry, I’m alright,” she told me. Two weeks later she said she couldn’t stand the pain anymore and went back to the doctor to make the second request (she also filled out the written request form).
On September 5, 2002, my brother and I and our spouses gathered in her bedroom. Her minister asked Mom if she wanted a prayer. Mom said no. She was really ready to end the pain. However she still had a sense of humor. When my sister-in-law told Mom, “Thank you for giving me Tim (my brother),” Mom replied, “Thank you for taking him.” In the end, she told us, “I love you all,” drank the water with the dissolved medicine, and died peacefully within a few minutes. She even had a little smile on her face.
It was a profound, positive experience. Best of all, she was no longer in pain. Since that day I have been comforted that she was able to die peacefully at home surrounded by family. It was what she really wanted. I’ve read many stories of people who wanted to die but couldn’t, including people who killed themselves with guns. I am so thankful that Mom was able to die this way.
In our society, we need to talk about death. We should have those difficult conversations before death becomes an emergency. I also believe death with dignity should be available for any terminally ill, competent adult so they can end unbearable suffering at the end of life. It not only relieves the dying person of more suffering but also gives great comfort to the family and friends.