“Faither” was a wonderful man, with cornflower blue eyes, which always twinkled with mischief. He had the most expressive eyebrows, which seemed able to portray the most complicated messages silently. During the last weeks of his life, his sense of humour seldom left him.
I consider ensuring fulfillment of his last wishes to be one of the most important pieces of work I have ever done.
“Do you mind if I talk to you, lass? ” my father-in-law asked me one night. “I want to know if you’ll help me. There are several things that are very important, and I need to know if I can count on you.”
I speechlessly nodded my assent. He had oesophageal cancer, and he had been staying in our home for the last few months so that my husband and I could support both him and his wife. His wife was finding the nervous strain very difficult to bear.
I knew immediately that he wanted to tell me what mattered most to him as he took those last final steps, and nodded my assent.
“I want to die here, in your home, with you to looking after me. I do not want to go into hospital again.”
I agreed to this happily.
“More than anything, I want to die with dignity. Can you do that for me? I know I am asking a lot.”
“Oh, Faither,” I replied thoughtfully. “You’re saying that you don’t want any further treatment?”
“That is correct”, he stated clearly. “They’ve done their best, lass, but I’m terribly tired of it all. I just want peace now.”.
“Are you worried that when the time comes, you may not be lucid enough to express these wishes?” I offered.
“I trust you, lass. If I am unable to say “I’ve had enough” will you say it for me?” he appealed.
“You’re asking me to call time?” I asked, unbelieving.
“I am,” he responded.
“That’s a whole bundle of trust. Are you sure?” I asked, overwhelmed now by the responsibility.
“I couldn’t be more positive. I’ve watched you caring for others. You won’t get it wrong. I will be much more confident that I’ll not be required to suffer any humiliation or distress.”
I said I would do my best to ensure his wishes were fulfilled – but it could be difficult.
“Maybe we could call it something?” he suggested.
I was slightly lost by this rejoinder but asked him what he had in mind.
“Dying with Dignity!” he announced firmly.
DYING WITH DIGNITY
And so it was decided.
The message was sent out with confidence and pride: this was what he wanted.
The objective of Dying with Dignity was accepted and embraced by family and friends alike. They all welcomed the fact that there was no threat in the discussion of end of life topics. With the subject open, and an aim in view, relatives from far and near came to say a relaxed goodbye. It was emphasised that they should spend as much time as they wanted or needed: it did not need to be rushed.
Friends and relatives arrived in ones or twos (for either a few hours or a couple of days, depending on the relationship), over a period of weeks.
My home rapidly turned into a sardine tin. It was indeed fortunate that I worked in the hospital on night duty and that we had two spare bedrooms and a bed settee. It was challenging, coping with the occupants of this ever -changing house. But it was company for my mother in law and took the intensity out of her concern. Faither was happier than I have ever seen him, his positive attitude affecting the visitors, and it was wonderful to hear him laughing so much at the memories his visitors brought, and being distracted from his pain and discomfort.
It was indeed fortunate that I worked in the hospital on night duty and that we had two spare bedrooms and a bed settee. It was challenging, coping with the occupants of this ever -changing house. But it was company for my mother in law and took the intensity out of her concern. Faither was happier than I have ever seen him, his positive attitude affecting the visitors, and it was wonderful to hear him laughing so much at the memories his visitors brought, and being distracted from his pain and discomfort.
One morning, as my shift was finishing, my husband phoned me at the hospital. Faither had had a dreadful night. Should he stay off work?
“No, just go,” I replied. “I’ll stay up with him. Don’t worry, I’ll give you plenty notice,” I responded.
I sat with him, feeding him sips of melted ice from a teaspoon, and realised with utter clarity that we were approaching The End. When I was certain “Time” should be called, I invited the doctor to pay a house call. He arrived in minutes.
“ That’s some case of pneumonia you’ve got there,” he said, “We’d better get him to the hospital.” He drew out his writing implements.
“No,” I said, firmly. “He doesn’t want or need any more drips or antibiotics. I know that would make him temporarily better, but then he’ll start going downhill again. The man is done. What he needs now is rest.”
The doctor looked at me, startled.
“You mean you don’t want me to treat him?” he asked.
We had known each other for years, and we had an excellent relationship.
“You’ve got it in one,” I replied.
“Are you sure about this?” he asked.
I had taken the responsibility so seriously, that this question jarred terribly, and I had to leave the room to regain my composure. His wife came after me, begging me to say what was required. As I struggled with my feelings, the doctor joined us in the kitchen.
“Well, you appear to be united,” he said after I had explained. (His wife was nodding enthusiastically.) “I’ll have to get the chemist to order some Morphine for me.”
I knew that the stall on the Morphine was to give everyone time to consider– probably including himself. He read my look and was quick to reassure.
“Don’t worry; I’ll be back at 11 a.m.”
“I don’t mind giving it” I offered, realising he was in a difficult position.
“NO. I’ll give it. It is my responsibility,” he answered. So saying, he departed.
I phoned and told my husband to be home by 11 a.m. He arrived, and we gathered in the bedroom. At the arranged time, the doctor returned, and Dignity was duly delivered.
Faither seemed to recognise that a bridge had been crossed, and contentment settled on him. He seemed, if anything, more aware. It was a reaction I had not seen before.
“I think I’ll have a cigarette now,” said Faither.
“Och, you know you shouldn’t,” said his wife. “It’s bad for you!”
I smiled gently at her and lit it for him. After two puffs, he handed it back to me.
“That’s enough, lass,” he said, and I took it to stub it out.
“Nip it” he suddenly instructed – meaning he may come back for it later.
I nipped it.
And with these words, he was gone. All his wishes, stated simply, fulfilled.
©Linda Jane McLean
She also writes:
I have found that generally, people do not fear death: they fear the lack of control they may have when dying. Loss of control is frightening.
I was also saddened that so many people seem to think their GP will listen or respect their wishes. I sent the below link round to a few folk – who all like it
but felt that doctors would not abide by it. It is much simpler than an Advance Directive.