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Jun 05

I’m in love with a dead woman..

When I started this blog, I told you most of the time it was just for me to rant about silly things like people misusing their iPhones or such nonsense.  I also said occasionally I would get serious.  Well, here tiz.

If you’re reading this, its probably because of the title.  As you read on, I hope it makes sense.  And if any of the parties involved should EVER find their way to this writing, I hope they see the respect with which the title is used.

Earlier this week, I had set my Tivo to pick up a documentary on HBO about physician-assisted suicide in Oregon.  It’s legal there.  I love documentaries anyway, and thought this one might have something to offer.  I had no idea.

Ironically, on Friday, Dr. Jack Kevorkian died.  Dr. Jack, in his brusque, cranky way, was the poster child for this subject for years, ultimately serving seven years in prison for aiding at least 130 people to end their lives.  Then, on Saturday, my Tivo served up to me ‘How To Die In Oregon‘.  And I fell in love.

Cody Curtis

Cody Curtis

Her name is/was Cody Curtis.  She was 54 years old when she chose to end her suffering from liver cancer on December 7, 2009.  Basically my age.  She would probably have been in the next class had we gone to high school together.

This documentary focuses on a lot of people.  To be frank, most of them are older, 80 or above and in obvious pain and suffering.  But quickly, Cody becomes the centerpiece for the film.  I would love to ask the director if that was the original design.

You become attached to her because at first glance in the film, you’d never guess there was anything wrong with her.  Then begins the slow, painful process of the last months of her life portrayed (and shared) on film.  The good days.  The bad days.  The unexpected days where everything seems normal.  The rapid onslaught toward the end, and even the realization that making it to Christmas won’t be realized.  It is tragic.  It is heartfelt.  It is everyday life around this world of ours.

Ruth Ann Owen

Ruth Ann Owen

In 1990, my mother Ruth Ann Owen was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.  It is one nasty cancer that affects the plasma cells in the bloodstream.  It affects the skeletal structure as well.  After experiencing back pain for several months, my mother went to the doctor.  She was placed in the hospital, diagnosed, bombarded with radiation on her spine, and never walked on her own again.  Three and a half painful years later, she died.  A slow, agonizing death.  Having been stuck in a hospital bed in the dining room of her home.  Not having seen the upstairs since the day she went to the hospital nearly 1300 days earlier.

Let me say here and now, I would never have advocated this procedure for my mother.  On more than one occasion she cried out for the end and begged for death.  It wasn’t available.  So she was subjected to countless trips to the hospital where she would artificially be restored to some form of ‘normalcy’, and sent back home.  I would not have advocated it.   But I don’t think I should judge it as an option.  And had it been available and she asked for it, I honestly can’t tell you how I would have reacted.

I remember my mother’s last hospital trip.  It was obvious she was in such pain and suffering and there was nothing any of us could do.  I remember being in the emergency room as the doctors administered to her.  By this time, I don’t think she knew my dad or myself.  Her last words that made any sense, “I want my dog”, referring to Nikki, the Bichon who had kept her company all those years.  I’m grateful that the last thing I heard from her was about something that had made her happy through the sickness.

Less than a day and a half later, she died in intensive care.  I remember seeing her vitals start to slip.  I remember asking a nurse about a time frame, and they said about an hour.  They were right on target.  The last moments are singed into my brain.  I remember going home to tell my grandmother, nearly 90 at the time, that her daughter was gone.  And I remember the sense of ‘its finally over’.

I relived that saga with Cody and I fell in love with her during it.  I also fell in love with her family for having the courage and the dignity to allow the filming of her journey.  I would love to shake her husband’s hand some day and thank him.  And to thank her kids.  This is a brave bunch.

I also fell in love with the others in this film.  From the gentleman who promised to chase his Seconol cocktail with a beer, to the radio/TV guy who refused to have his voice box removed.  (Kind of identified with him.  He said he WAS his voice, and he’d die with it!  And he did.)

This is an emotional subject.  Usually it is argued against for religious reasons.  But it truly boils down to whether one group has the right to tell another how they can live, (and yes end) their lives.

If you are against the concept, it may not change your mind.  Thats your right.  But in an age where we can’t stand to see our pets suffer, but advocate suffering in our fellow human beings, this story deserved to be told.  And it was told in a magnificent way in this film.

‘How To Die In Oregon’ won the Best Documentary category at Sundance.  Regardless of your current feelings, you owe it to yourself to watch it.

And thank you Cody.  For sharing your story.  For making us think.  For rekindling our emotions.  And thank you and the others for making us care about each of you.

 

5 comments

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  1. Cheryl

    Wow, Edward. That was a fantastic post … and an intensely personal subject for many. My father was terminally ill and suffered needlessly for quite awhile — I know he would have supported this ‘way out’ if it were an acceptable way to let go. Prolonging life is more for the family than it is for the person suffering.
    Kudos.

  2. Mickey

    Ed, you have no idea how this touched me. People don’t realize how hard it can be to watch someone they love suffer until they have to go through it.
    Four years ago we had to put our black lab down after 15 years of his being our most devoted friend. At the same time my father in law was at home suffering. He chose to be at home and not receive any extensive medical intervention except to make him more comfortable. It was hard to watch this man that was so active until the age of 91 be bedridden and unable to tinker around his farm the way he always did.
    When I wasn’t there to care for him I had a baby-com installed and listened to his breathing and movements for 4 months at night.
    I don’t know how people will take this but I wondered why they don’t let people have the same option our dog had. The option to die peacefully when our quality of life will not improve and when we are in pain or not in contact with reality. In fact after our canine buddy quietly closed his eyes and left us, I looked at my husband and said. “When I get too old to enjoy life, or my kids have to take care of me… call the Vet!”
    I agree with you. We should have the option to do for our loved ones what we do for our pets.
    I hope I get to watch this and fall in love with Cody too..

  3. Cynthia

    Touching post Edward, it’s beautiful how other people can effect us all, and how strong those that suffer so much really are.

  4. Nicole

    Fantastic post. I am a huge supporter of the right to die. Just as pain and suffering is an intensely personal and private experience, however much people might try to “share” it, so should be death. We cannot live another’s life for them, and so we cannot and should not judge the manner in which they choose to end it. Religion offers no grounds for imposing upon another person–their choices should be left between them & their god.

  5. Kathleen Thomas

    Eddie – I feel the same as you do. My mom had lived with us for five years. I suspect that long before our son was born (she wished him on us because our daughter was too easy – she wanted us to have a boy…..) she was in intense pain from we don’t know what but suspect it was lung cancer that had traveled to her neck. She couldn’t lift her head. I remember she said in the bathroom – Kathy – I’m too tired to go on…..I, of course said all the things a daughter says – oh no you have to keep trying – all the things I really didn’t believe. But we went to an emergency room at a private hosp. (she would not go to the military hosp. where I was born, my brother went when he lost his leg in Vietnam, where my father had died and she had been countless times… – she wouldn’t go to the private hosp. because she was afraid to have a bill) Well we finally convinced her to go the private hosp. I had the first time to go by myself to go shopping or whatever. As soon as I was finished I went to see mother expecting her to be chipper and doing better! When I got there a nurse took care of Carter and when Mark and Jessica got there Mark came in with me – it was as if she had been waiting for me to get there. As soon as I got there she started shutting down – it was a beautiful death (if there is such a thing)the nurses did not do any thing to stop – thank god. If we had only known the pain she was in I would have done SOMETHING.

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