On the ferry ride home after helping my father to die, the first thing I did was buy a Beachcomber.
Imagine my surprise when I saw a piece on Booth Gardner’s Death with Dignity campaign; how apropos. I had, a few days before, witnessed firsthand how to die with dignity intact, and I had helped to make it possible.
I know Booth from business dealings on Vashon and have found him to be seriously funny and profoundly serious. We share a love for Dick’s Deluxe, and his views on death have long intrigued me.
I will always remember his statement about how many decisions he has made during his lifetime, regarding family and business, and how frustrating it is to have the decision about dying taken away from him by an entity that will not be in the same room, let alone anywhere near, when he dies.
My dad had a severe cardiac condition that, over the course of 20 years, stole his ability to live a full life. He had an enlarged heart, a pacemaker-defibrillator and many toxic medications.
By the middle of April this year, Dad could no longer enjoy a simple meal because of the toxicity of the meds. He was nauseated, his poor heart was wearing out, and no medical miracle or gadgets would make any difference anymore.
During my life, Dad taught me how to garden and write. He taught me a love for history and that it is OK to have a wacky sense of humor, as long as you have one! And his last lesson was how to die with dignity at a time of his choosing.
Dad did not want to die in a nursing home or hospital. He had spent so much time there in the past; he wanted to die at home. So after much discussion, at times agonizing, my family called in Hospice of Kitsap County to guide us.
They were amazing, and 10 days after making the decision, Dad was gone. Mom and I were with him as he passed, and my family came as soon as they could. It was bittersweet, but, truthfully, he died with a smile on his face. I wondered if it was from relief or someone he saw as he was leaving this realm.
During the end, one thing that hospice taught us was to always ask ourselves: Is this good for me or good for my dying loved one? I learned quickly that many of the things my family wanted for Dad were actually things that would make us feel better, and he did them out of guilt or wanting to please us. Eating, drinking, staying awake, continuing on with medical treatments, there is a whole range of things that the dying will do for the living. Some good, some not so good.
The article in The Beachcomber set me to thinking about my dad, a dear friend and Booth’s situation.
In one sense, my dad planned his “suicide” by going off his meds and turning off his defibrillator. His death was easy and peaceful, at home, the way he wanted it. Comfort drugs, like morphine, were provided to my family with instruction and supervision. And this was all legal.
But if you were faced with a painful, incoherent death, what would you choose? Having sat with a dear friend on the last day of her life, while she was in agonizing pain and completely incoherent, I prayed for her speedy death.
She was a deeply religious person and a good, solid citizen — not at all someone who would blithely end her life. She was scared about her last days; she knew what she was facing, and she prayed for God to take her sooner.
So, my dad was legally able to end his life, but my friend was not, and Booth is fighting for the right to end his life as he sees fit.
How will you vote? Will you vote for what is good for you or what is good for a dying loved one? I want a planned, peaceful death, and be serious now, isn’t that what we all want? Isn’t that what we all pray for?
— Karen Pruett is a longtime Islander and business owner.