Dying to Live with Dignity.

Those big, brown eyes look up at me expectantly.  Mommy

It brings me reeling back to reality.  Oh my God! How can I even think about suicide?  How dare I be so selfish? 

That was twelve years ago.  Chad was barely two years old. 

Funnily enough, initially I hadn’t even considered killing myself after an accident left me paralyzed from the neck down.  I think I was still very much in denial – believing (naïvely) that my paralysis was only temporary.

About a month after I got out of the hospital we had some friends over.  Someone expressed concern at our swimming pool not being secure.  My husband and I had discussed childproofing it that very same week.  Although it was a long way from the house and Chad was not really mobile yet, I knew that if there was no one else around to help he would literally drown before my eyes if he fell into the pool.  Scary!

But, this friend’s concern was not for Chad. 

He managed to draw my husband away from the group and, in a hushed tone, warned him of the possibility that I may consider driving my wheelchair into the pool and drown myself.  Hey, I can still hear you.  Stop saying those things!

I was hurt.  I was angry.  I was scared.  I was shocked.  How dare he assume that I would ever consider doing something so selfish!

The harsh reality of my circumstances and the attitudes of society in general became more apparent by the response of the people around me with each passing day.  Their reactions proved that I was different now – no longer really accepted and perceived as an inferior being.  Suddenly I was exposed to hurtful comments, derogatory remarks, ignorant assumptions and infantile treatment.  For the first time in my life, I was forced to deal with rejection, shame and pity.  It hurt like hell.

My life began spinning out of control.  My husband wanted out of the marriage and he was taking our son.  I didn’t have the physical and emotional strength – or the financial means – to fight him it all.

That was when I started contemplating suicide for the first time.  The realization that I couldn’t kill myself, without help, frustrated and horrified me.  All I wanted to do was to die!

I spent many hours thinking about ways to do it.

I looked despairingly at our pool.  Too late!  It had already been fenced in and the gate was permanently locked.

I would go up to the stables where there was a beautiful view over the farm with the N4 highway in the distance.  Oh, how I wish I could just get there.  All it would take is one truck or speeding car – surely?

My desperate obsession with dying didn’t allow me to even consider the consequences to others and most especially our son.

I begged my husband to hire a hit-man.  Come on, it would be an easy way out – for both of us.  It would be an easy, clean, quick job for some low-life willing to make an extra buck.  Sigh.  I think I have read far too many crime novels or watched too many movies.

Oh God, please help!  Take me!  Send somebody to help!  I wish I could disguise myself as an animal.  I need a vet.  Now! 

Voluntary euthanasia.  Assisted suicide.  Dying with help dignity.  Call it what you like!

It remains a very controversial subject.  Some people prefer not to be confronted by it.  Everybody has an opinion.  I don’t know if it is right or wrong.

The case for assisted suicide is a powerful one – appealing to our human, and often innate, capacity for compassion.  Some feel strongly that we have an obligation to support individual choice and self-determination.  But, the case against assisted suicide is also significant – for it speaks to us of a fundamental admiration of life itself.  Many are acutely aware of the risk and dire consequences of the diminished respect of the living.

I don’t stand sit in judgment of anybody.  This is my story.

If euthanasia was legal in my country, I know, without a doubt, that I would have done everything in my power to fight for my right to die – ten years ago – maybe even five years ago.  I’m ashamed to say. 

Sometime ago I came across a story of a quadriplegic choosing to starve himself to death.  He obtained a court order, against the nursing home he was living in, to respect his right to die and they were instructed to inform him of the consequences of his decision, then to remove all feeding tubes.  There was a time when I believed (naïvely) that I could do the same if I really wanted to.  Despite being shit-scared of dying a slow, agonizing death, I bragged about it.  I am in control.  I can choose to live or die – just like everybody else.

Maybe it was more the sense of power I was after?  Perhaps, it was just me being manipulative?

Selfishly, I didn’t give any thought or consideration to the feelings of my loved ones or care assistants.  Neither did I take the time to reflect on the moral dilemma my doctors would have to face.  Quite frankly, I was so engrossed in my own misery that I didn’t really care much for anybody else – except Chad.

Somehow, without him even being aware of it, Chad was my lifeline.  Just his mere presence had the ability to bring me up out of the deepest chasm of loneliness and despair.  Thank God for my powerful maternal instinct.

Some time back I was in contact with a family whose adult son had broken his neck by diving into the murky waters of a dam.  Sadly, he misjudged its depth and was left in a similar physical state as me.  I mistakenly thought that I could offer some sort of emotional support and naïvely believed that I could give them a sense of hope for the his future.  But, regrettably he succumbed to his depression and he ended his life by driving his battery-powered, chin-controlled wheelchair off a dam wall and drowned.

I was devastated.  I took his suicide personally.  I felt as if I had failed – again.  You are bloody useless Tracy!

I found out later that some of his family was aware of his intentions.  Apparently, they had seen him sitting on the dam wall, a little way from their farmhouse, minutes before.  When they noticed that he was gone, somebody ran.  It was too late.

I was angry with him.  Why did you give up so easily?  If I can live a life of hell on earth, so can you!

But, I admired his courage and felt shame at my lack of it.  You had the ingenious plan and the guts to go through with it!

I was enraged with his family.  How on earth could you allow him to kill himself?  Don’t you care?

I was confused and scared.  Did my family also wish for me to be dead?

I became insecure – again.  Am I too much of a burden to my family, friends and society?

Some months later his family ended up at the same party I was at.  There were many people confined within the walls of the entertainment area, making it difficult to get around, even for able-bodied people.  But, they even avoided making eye contact with me from across the room.  I was hoping to talk to them to express my sympathy and condolences but they made no effort to get to me and it was (near) impossible for me to get to them.

Their discomfort was obvious.  It made me sad.  Do they feel guilt – hmmm I wonder?  I hope that they may find the strength and courage to go on – without their son and brother.  But, more importantly, I pray that they may find the peace of mind that they deserve.

Somehow, by the grace of God and with the love, care and support of my family, friends and community I have successfully managed to rebuild a new, meaningful life in a new body.

Recently I found this comment on Twitter.  Why would a quadriplegic want to live?

I responded.  Why not?

There was a time in my life when I honestly believed that I had no quality of life left.  I know that this may come as a surprise to many able-bodied people out there.  But, strangely, time gives a whole new perspective.  I have a deep-seated reverence of life.  Ask me now – do you wanna die?  No!  An emphatic no!  No!  No!  Not now!

But, when the time comes, and I am in need, it gives me great comfort knowing that there are organizations like Hospice out there with dedicated Earth Angels who will hopefully give me the privilege of dying with dignity one day.

Are you brave enough to share your opinions or comments on this subject?  I would love to hear them. 

About Tracy Todd

Although I need a wheelchair to get around, it is most certainly NOT what defines my essence as a woman. I am also a mother, teacher, wannabe writer and an inspirational speaker with a positive outlook on life.
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23 Responses to Dying to Live with Dignity.

  1. The most pain I’ve ever experienced was during childbirth. I was in labor 24 hours, actively pushed for an hour with 0 progress, and ended up with a c-section (and a child with a head circumference in the 95th percentile). During the ordeal, I found myself questioning my–til then–cherished religious beliefs, and at the core of the issue I wondered how a loving God could sit by and do nothing while I experienced such pain, or while anyone on earth experienced any pain, large or small, for that matter. The only way it makes sense for me to think about it is with an eternal perspective. I am no longer giving birth. I am no longer in pain. Yet the memories of that experience linger, and if we are eternal beings, they will linger forever. I feel richer in my perspective having had the experience of childbirth (it makes me even more grateful to NOT be in pain now), yet I never want to do it again. I guess I’m hoping one of the primary purposes of life is to provide painful experiences (physical and emotional) in a controlled manner that won’t last long but will enrich our individual existences forever. Maybe we’d be doing ourselves a disfavor by bailing out early. Yet, in full disclosure, I did end up with an epidural.🙂 I don’t know. I just don’t know.

    • Tracy Todd says:

      Sometimes I also just don’t know, but as time goes on I find I have the skills to cope better and feel stronger.

      Sorry to hear about your pain. I tend to agree that we’d be doing ourselves a disfavour by bailing out early. Stay strong.

  2. Bill Watson says:

    I have been a Hospice volunteer for 20+ years – I wish that some of those I have been with could have known you even in the way I do through you blogs. I call my volunteerism with Hospice a Ministry of Presence. I also have 11th Hour training. We sit with a person in the last hours of their life if there are no family or friends who can be with them. I am not afraid to touch or hold a persons hands or stroke their brow during this process. Somehow our spirits mingle. Most cannot communicate at this stage. But it doesn’t mean they don’t know I am there.

  3. Pingback: Dear God… Are You There? | Tracy Todd's Blog

  4. Bill Rogers says:

    Suffice it to say that I have goosebumps after reading your blog, Tracy. Selfishly, I am glad that you are still around and that you have enriched my life with your writing. Thank you.

  5. Nicole says:

    Wow! Wonderful post, thank you again for sharing your life with us.

  6. I for one am pleased you did not end your life, as I sincerely believe there is (more) greatness awaiting you in your future. I have learned some amazing lessons from your writing and that is saying something, as I am a hard-boiled cynic who generally believes he can’t possibly be taught anything by anyone.
    I think, at the end of your life, whenever that may be, you and the rest of us will look back and marvel at all you achieved in spite of — or perhaps because of — your disability.
    I have included your blog on my photographic blog’s blogroll ( http://www.thelightstuff.blogspot.com ) as I believe as many people as possible should have the opportunity to read your writing.
    Take care.
    Hilton
    http://www.thewhiteou.com
    http://www.lekkaplekka.com

  7. Deborah says:

    Hi Tracy

    Another very honest and thought provoking post, beautifully written as usual. Thank you.

    I thought you and your readers might be interested in this article about new technology which is enabling people who are paralysed to communicate:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/jul/26/sniffing-device-paralysed-woman-communicate

    The piece also mentions the book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. I wondered if you had read it and what you thought of it?

    Best wishes as ever, Deborah.x

  8. KJ says:

    Excellent blog as always. This should surely give those contemplating suicide that there is hope!

  9. Ina Bence says:

    Thank you for sharing this, life is hard most of the time! We all think we live in isolation, we are individuals that can decide for our selves ( has the right to)! During my career I have been involved with more than one person that needed to keep on living after some-one close committed succeeded. The devastation and pain (guilt) are so unbearable to those left behind. So thank you for deciding to live, you are making such a difference to our lives.

  10. Tracy Todd says:

    Dear Readers
    I really appreciate you taking the time to read my blog and for making an effort to leave a comment. Your honesty is valued. Keep your comments coming please.
    I urge you to take a moment to read this article and watch the accompanying video. Very sobering indeed!
    This is proof that one cannot really be sure of how one will react unless one is faced with a particular circumstance.
    http://www.bioedge.org/index.php/bioethics/bioethics_article/9106/

    Warm regards
    Tracy

    • Bill Watson says:

      I was distressed with the nurse as she shaved Richard and talked about him as if he wasn’t comprehending what she was saying. That conversation I think should have been held outside of his range of hearing. Life and death issues are never black and white – it is gray. Unfortunately some people can not tolerate grayness.

  11. Nicky says:

    Dear Tracey

    I’m always humbled by reading your blogs and all the comments left by your followers and friends.

    “…begging your husband to hire a hit man…” God Tracey that’s so distressing, you poor thing, what you’ve gone through, the Twitter comment.. unbelievable! Sorry you ever have to see how cruel this world can be, how that/this must affect you.

    I want to hug you…

    I am constantly being inspired by your courage and truth. God, what an amazing woman you are!

    I cant express more, I dont know how to really!

    Love, respect and thanks xxx

    Nicky

  12. Cynthia Robertson says:

    Hi Tracey , Thank you once a gain for your wonderful thought-provoking topic, and for having the courage to talk about such a painful thing. I am very pro the dying with dignity thing, some years ago I went through cancer and divorce after 17 years of an awful marriage and suffered very badly from depression. I too, contemplated, sat with gun in hand many nights and only the thought of what would it do to my 3 wonderful children held me back. I am also very grateful I didnt, have come through on the other side, achieved my lifes dream of publishing some novels, my kids are grown up and I am finally a “whole ” person (I speak emotionally of course) but –
    If a person’s quality of life has decreased to such a point that there isnt even that ONE reason to stick around, we should have that choice. With a sensible waiting period and no stigma, to be able to die with dignity. I think of people with very painful terminal illnesses, people attached to machines who did not WANT that, old people who are alone, lonely , neglected, all their loved ones moved on – why should we be forced to stick around if we’ve had enough?
    Keep blogging!!!

  13. Mike says:

    Sobering reading this. You will be judged by people, but they know nothing. Only you know what it is like to live your life. Brave, brave posting. You continue to be an inspiration to those of us who think we have problems. Thanks for being so honest…

  14. Lindy Maclaurin says:

    Tracy, I can understand your feelings, but there is always something in our lives worth living for. In your case Chad and all your friends and family. I love reading your blogs, and seeing you in town – always with a smile and a friendly word. Your strength gives us something worth living for. Keep it up Tracy – we NEED YOU!

  15. Though I personally believe life does not end at the line crossed in the death of the body, I do not know and it can’t be proven one way or the other.

    I do, however, advocate free will – in all cases except those where others would be harmed by the action. Therefore, while I have empathy for those who wish to end their own suffering with self-termination (and I think they do have the right to do so, or should have), my beliefs require me to advise those intending to do themselves harm that the action is likely to harm others emotionally and psychologically.

    I apologize for getting so dry and philosophical. I didn’t mean to turn a comment into a position paper. I prefer to read lessons in parable form, the way you present your own stories, Tracy. The realness of vulnerability and honesty increase their effectiveness and make them memorable and easy to relate to. The more we reveal our own deepest secrets (that we assume are unique to us) the more it becomes apparent that humans in widely varied circumstances share exactly the same kinds of feelings and fears. Our differences are real, AND an illusion. Both are true at the same time.

  16. Sally-Jane says:

    I don’t think that being able bodied stops people from at times loosing focus and purpose and having an enormous desire to rather end it all.
    As a Hospice nurse I am torn, I know with good symptom control and pain control people can die symptom free and with relative dignity, but the process of the body slowly shutting down is not usually a very pleasant one. What it does do and I have seen this time and again, it gives families and the person a chance to prepare.

    I understand both side, I am glad you found the meaning that you needed to make your life worth living.

  17. Anton says:

    Dying to Live with Dignity… or
    Living to Die with Dignity…

    My dear friend, you touch on many things, and (as always!) you put a very strong perspective on a topic.

    6 years and a month ago a very dear friend took the “assisted suicide” route. She had incurable cancer. a few years earlier they lost their son in an accident, which also claimed her unborn second child.

    She had a rough time as a child and teenager – drug abuse etc… She pulled herself out of the cesspit, and turned her life around. When she knew she had cancer she decided not to take mor drugs, and I think she wanted to give her husband a chance to have children with someone else. She went to extremes to get him to do that, a very long story I will shr with you next time I have coffee with you…

    In the end she died with him at her side. Tragically he also died of cancer 5 years later.

    I think living to die with dignity is not much different from dying to live with dignity….

    Here is the letter she sent to friends and acquaintances shorty before they left.

    Friends

    As you know I have incurable cancer.

    Nothing medical science can do at the moment will make any difference to the outcome, and the only thing doctors can do is to make me live a little bit longer, but that would have required all sorts of horrible things and drugs. I didn’t have the guts for that so I decided to rather live my life to the full until I couldn’t take the pain any longer, then I will go to a civilized country where you are allowed to make a decent end to your life. Believe me, it was actually a much easier decision to make than it might sound!

    That day will dawn in a few hours. Nelius and myself are leaving early this morning.

    I would like to thank all of you for the friendship, companionship, camaraderie, jokes, fun and laughter we shared over time. We had good times that I wouldn’t trade for anything!

    To those of you who condemned me for being myself, for my life-style when I was younger, for marrying someone so much older than me, for saying what I wanted to say when I wanted to say it – you are forgiven.

    Some of you will receive another short mail…

    Cheers

    Alli

    PS. Please don’t bother phoning. My mobile phone’s card has been destroyed, Nelius’ will be switched off until he gets back and our fixed line is diverted.

  18. Carl Muller says:

    Trace,
    I think we all had that wish at some time. We are just too ashamed to say it. Quite a few people in my extended family had committed suicide. Some have shot themselves, some drank poison, OD, hung (with a rope).
    People are just too ashamed to mention it.
    Remember, finding a purpose in life, you have to go through all of them before you can be a mensch.
    Then only can you help other people.
    Being self righteous about it, how can you even think about speaking to people and say, I have been there, let me hold on to your arm (or to your spirit). Then only can you give other people support climbing towards the mountain.
    God bless you….
    At least you have taken some steps.

  19. Jacs says:

    Hi Trace,
    Right now, I can’t justify taking my own life (alone or assisted) in the same way that I can’t justify abortion under ANY circumstances. I feel that the choice is not ours, but God’s.
    However, I have never been in a situation where I had to make either of those decisions, so I can’t honestly say that I would feel the same if things were different.
    My heartfelt prayer is that you (or I, for that matter) never need to make that decision🙂
    Stay strong – we love you!
    Jacs

  20. Deep courage, as always. Cuts to the very core of our reasons for wanting or not wanting to stay ‘alive’. Your legacy is a living and astounding one. Yet another chapter in that slowly developing book of yours young lady!

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