Everyone should have the right to die

It isn’t easy to let go of the people you love. Not even when you should. But it’s necessary.
Personally, I first learned about letting go in 1957. My father was still a young man. Age 62 to be exact. And it was unbelievably hard to let go. How could we possibly get along without the kind, gentle man whom everyone called Nick?
Saint Nick they should have called him.
When I was an infant, he comforted me at night walking about the living room after he had worked hard all day. Hugging and soothing. “Taw . . . taw . . . taw little honey.”
As I grew up, he bounced me on his lap and carried me through the snow to school. He took me along on the hayrack and on the sap-gathering sleigh. And to the photographer when he had his chauffeur’s licence photo taken.
But of the goodness of his heart, Mr. Hurd took a little round photo-licence picture of the tag-along four-year-old with the short-cut hair and the straight bangs. A photo I still have in my possession.
Even in the hard years, there was always money enough for beautiful dolls and little rocking chairs from Santa Claus.
And at Thanksgiving and Christmas, we had to make mounds of extra turkey and stuffing so he could take plates to older people who lived alone and otherwise would have had no celebration dinner.
We made friends with those who had no friends. And to this day, tears come when I remember a handicapped young man who came to the house during the wake.
The young man, whom my father knew only minimally but always spoke to, stood weeping by the coffin and said only one sentence. “That’s the best friend I ever had.”
And that’s the way it was for me. My father was the best friend I ever had so how could I let him go?
But on that long ago night in a northern New York hospital standing by his bed as his heart failed and he cried out in pain–pain that couldn’t be
alleviated–I knew it was time to let go.
Medicine has changed a lot in 40 years and maybe today they would have moved him into critical care, put him on a ventilator, and kept him alive a little longer. But the truth is, in the end we still would have had to let him go.
Life doesn’t last forever and it isn’t right that we have such difficulty letting go. It isn’t fair that a good life has to be ended with weeks of incredible suffering hooked up to machines.
The medical advances of our century are life-saving, and we should give thanks for them every day. But at the same time, we must learn to recognize when it’s time to let go and let the suffering end in peace.
This should be one of our main goals in the 21st century–to deal with the ethics of dying, and even defining death, in an era of advanced medical technology.
We must do this for ourselves, as well as for those we love, lest we all live out our days in fear of the end.
In the meantime, what have you done about making your own end-of-life wishes known? Everyone should fill out an advanced directives form.
If you haven’t done so before, why not call your pastor or doctor for help today?

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