The week-end my parents moved from their home and into the assisted living facility near me, Mom sighed and pouted. “I wish we could both die here, right now.”
“That could be arranged.”
She cried when I said I was joking.
Later she quizzed my brother about physician assisted suicide. He's a lawyer and answered like one. I interrupted his discourse with a loud whisper.
"Mom is asking because she wants to commit suicide with Dad."
He got flustered. “What? What? No, Mom, it is only for those with dire medical conditions."
Mom's condition was dire to her: “Well, I don’t want to live without your father”.
At my mother's last doctor's appointment everything checked out fine, so she was disappointed. Dad 's check-ups were not good. He was in stage 4 of chronic lymphatic leukemia and had to take more aggressive chemo. It caused bathroom issues and pain in places he didn't know could hurt. He would have stopped treatment, but worried about Mom. "She's so damn stubborn." He wanted her to prepare for life without him, but she refused to get an electronic wheelchair.
Mom said Dad was the one who was stubborn. He claimed he didn't need a walker, but he did. Pushing her wheelchair gave him balance. “He’ll fall and break something and never get out of the hospital.” She had plenty of examples as proof.
Since suicide was illegal, my mother took another option. She began a prayer campaign and asked God to take her first. Dad thought her prayer request was ridiculous. He always responded to her emotional outbursts with scientific methodology. Statistics and probabilities were on his side. But a month later Mom woke up during the night, got dressed, and died in her chair.
My father was devastated and angry. "How could she have done this to me?" My mother's death shocked him into a belief that shocked me.
“If God answered her prayers, He damn well better answer mine". His first prayer was that my mother would come back. When that one didn't work he prayed to die.
Over the next three weeks Dad ordered a double gravestone, appointed me executor of his will, added my name to his bank account, introduced me to his broker, and met with his doctor to state he was ending treatment and wanted only comfort care.
One Sunday afternoon my daughter wanted to stop by with the great-grandkids. I called, rather than surpise him.
"Tell her I'm sorry, not today. But I hope you'll still come."
We created a routine after Mom died. Every night I rubbed his swollen feet and we talked about what else needed to be done.
"I haven't written the thank-you notes yet."
"No one could read them if you did. I'll write and you sign them."
He smiled. "Just like Mom did."
When I left that night he said, "You know I will never get over this."
There was no use pretending otherwise. "I know, Dad."
The next day Dad had a massive stroke. When I saw him in the emergency room, unable to speak, body writhing, I knelt beside him and promised to let him die.
In the four days that followed, I stood vigilant for his wish. No tube feeding. No oxygen.
I covered him with blankets when he shivered, and removed them when he sweated. I wiped his dried lips with a wet washcloth and he uttered a sound. “Do you want water, Daddy?” I poured some in a glass and he clamped his mouth shut.
The day before he died, Dad became agitated, and reached to something I could not see. Tears streamed down his face. “Is it Mom? Is Mom here?” He nodded and I kissed him, then danced around the room. “Soon Daddy, soon.”
My father died twenty-seven days after my mother. Four years later, people still give condolences.
I thank them, and change the subject. It's too hard to explain how grateful I am.
photo credit: google images