(This is a repost of a blog entry from another site that I originally wrote on March 31, 2005. It was the day that Terry Schiavo died after she had been on life support for 15 years. Her husband and parents had fought for a long time over the decision to discontinue the support; her husband wanted to let her go, her parents wanted to keep her alive at all costs.)
...the warmest day of the spring, on that day when I made the
decision to let my father die.
By the time I got off the train
from downtown Montréal at the station near his hospice, the sun was
high in the sky, and the mounds of snow in the parkland I walked
through were melting away fast. It was early April 2001.
I didn't want to believe what the doctors had told me; the cancer had
spread to papa's brain. A lifetime of cigarettes had caught up with
him the summer before and the tumor in his throat caused strokes; the
second one leaving him paralyzed on one side.
He chose rehab over radiation. He had already chosen not to have
the standard surgery in cases of throat cancer - he wanted to be able
to talk. The doctors said without the surgery they could only give
him 6 months to 2 years. But his older brother had suffered the same
cancer and lived 2 silent, painfully long years, never again
speaking, after his surgery. My father didn't want to do that to
himself, to us.
During the winter, the cancer moved silently as papa made progress
at regaining use of his left side. Then I developed pneumonia and was
unable to visit him for 5 weeks. When they at last let me in to see
him, his mind was going. He talked about going fishing with his
father, asked if we had talked to his older brother, called my
step-sister by her mother's name.
The year before, I had
worked for the head of the Neuroscience unit at a research
laboratory. I knew far too well the damage that illness and trauma
could do to a human brain - my father's brain.
I asked for his
file and read through the list of chemicals being poured into his
body. The head nurse asked me to come back to talk to the director. As my father's oldest child, I would have to make decisions. He was
in no condition to sign the power of attorney form I had brought with
I asked for a CAT scan to make sure; maybe, just maybe
they were wrong and the cancer hadn't spread that far. But it had. I
had it sent via email to my former boss. He pulled it up on the
computer screen. I had seen enough brain scans to know that what I
was looking at wasn't right.
And so, on that April day four years ago, I went back to the small
town on the north shore of the St. Lawrence and sat with my father. I
fed him his lunch and I sat holding his hand while he drifted in and
out of consciousness.
Only when he was asleep did I beg him to
tell me what to do.
But I already knew.
director of the hospice handed me the DNR, I hesitated. But I knew,
with painful clarity, that it would be cruel in the extreme to keep
my father alive for long goodbyes that might not ease my sorrow at
I put the pen to paper and signed it.
My father died a month later - on a hot, sunny day filled with the
promise of summer.
There are dark, lonely nights when the
seeds of doubt creep in and voices whisper "you killed your
father"... but when I think of how cancer ravaged his poor body and
took his mind...
I know I did the right thing.