I recently spent time with a patient who was planning to take the end-of-life medications, which is approved in California. It is met with a lot of controversy, which I understand, however as a hospice nurse and bearing witness to suffering at the end of life, I support this choice. And I respect those who do not. I am not writing this to change your mind, I am writing this to plea to all of you to find it in your hearts to not allow your differences in choice to keep you from the bedside of someone you love who is dying.
This woman was suffering in many different ways, none of which could be remedied by medication or prayer. She has a strong faith commitment, which is very opposed to the choice she wanted to make. She struggled with that. Her family and close group of friends were also against it and while they were at her bedside daily, they refused to be there when she planned to take the medications. She asked me if I would be there for her, and I said yes.
She also asked me if I thought God would be angry with her, perhaps not accept her, if she chose to do this. I do not practice any particular faith and feel strongly that whomever you pray to does not judge, but I knew I needed to be careful in my response. This is what I told her, “I believe that what God wants from any of us, is to find peace within, and if you make peace with your choices, then your God will be at peace with and for you. And when you die, he will take your hand and welcome you.” I understand that many of you do not support what I said to her, but she was dying, and she was struggling, and she was tormented, and I desperately wanted her to feel some semblance of peace within. She deserved that.
She chose to wait to take the medications, perhaps hoping the people she loved most would let their disapproval go and would choose to be there with and for her. They did not. And she became too weak to be able to take them, removing that choice all together, and leaving her instead to be in a bed, dying alone, and suffering in pain. Thankfully we were able to move her to a hospice facility where the most compassionate team of nurses, home health aides, and volunteers provided gentle and loving care to her until her last breath was taken. I was not there when she took her last breath, but I was there every day until then, and I knew she was in really good hands.
She was not alone, but I question what she took with her…
My purpose in writing this is to ask that we try a little harder to accept people for who they are, not for the choices they make. That we stop being so hurtful with our judgement of someone because they believe differently than us. That we find a way to put aside the things that make us different, bringing what matters most of all to the forefront and allow that to be what binds us, which is love, family, and our friendships.
No one should have to die alone unless that is their choice. Holding the hand of someone who is dying is compassionate and kind… please, let’s be more of that. We do not have to agree, we do not have to kiss, or pray, or vote the same way … we are unique and that is a beautiful thing. But if those choices cause us to be violent, angry, hurtful, or mean that is what tears us a part. Our choices don’t tear us apart, our behavior does and that is something I think we need to change.
Let’s be kinder to one another…please. xo Gabby