I just wish I had been able to make it easier for him.
That may sound like the statement of an abused woman but it is made by a woman who was privileged to be married to a man who loved her unconditionally for 50 years and was her best friend. Had she been in his position he would have helped her end her life, regardless of the consequences to himself, but he would not allow her to help him because the law would have punished her for it.
Roland was a very gentle, caring person but believed that some things were private. Once when he was in the High Care Unit at hospital his first words to me were “Thank goodness my bed is right next to the loo”. There was no way he was going to allow anybody to assist him with any bodily functions, myself included.
I don’t remember how the subject came up, but about 12 years ago we agreed that we both wanted a Living Will. No life support. At the time we were both healthy and had not been watching anybody die a horrible death. We just knew a clean departure from this life was an essential part of how we felt.
Later we learnt just how right we were to choose a quick, clean end.
A close friend of his was diagnosed with cancer. The friend tried a couple of treatments and came to the conclusion that the suffering caused by the treatment was the greater of the two evils. In any case, he had lost two children and, as a Christian, said he was looking forward to seeing them again. However, six months later, just before he finally succumbed, he said he could not believe in a God who could allow such suffering. If he had had an easier way out maybe he would have retained his faith.
My mother started going deaf in her late fifties. By 80 she had Macular Degeneration. So there she was, both deaf and blind for all practical purposes, when she fell and broke her hip. It was around her 90th birthday that she said to me: “What have I done wrong that God does not want me?” She died slowly about 3 years later.
It was shortly after this that I read “The Last Right” by Marianne Thamm – the true story of Craig Schonegevel who suffered from Neurofibromatosis Type 1. Craig was 28 years old when he ended his suffering. We decided DignitySA was the way to go and we joined up.
A few months later Roland was admitted to hospital with bronchitis. Naturally his lungs were x-rayed and the radiologist picked up a mass on his liver which it was suggested should be investigated. It turned out to be malignant. The young doctor insisted that he could have the lobe removed but the older doctor was honest enough to tell us it must have started elsewhere and there was no promise that anything could help. Roland had not had any symptoms but the conclusion was the cancer had started in the stomach or intestine.
Once Roland was home again, still feeling fine, he started investigating how he could end his life before it became unbearable. He came up with one or two wild ideas which we discussed but, since one of them would probably ended with his blowing up the house, decided we needed help. As the cancer seemed to be moving slowly we rather hoped he could apply for an assisted death but it was not to be. Suddenly things speeded up and he knew he would have to do it himself. He had settled on a method but need to get to town and buy one or two items. Fate was against him and he woke up, on the day he had intended to go shopping, with severe fibrositis, or so he thought. It was a weekend so getting an appointment with a physiotherapist was impossible. I said I would go and do the shopping for him but he would not allow me to. He said he had to do it all himself. By the Monday morning he knew it was not fibrositis and guessed that the cancer had reached his neck and shoulder. I managed to get him into the car and to the doctor who gave him a prescription for morphine. Once home I was about to put the morphine in the medicine chest when he said “It’s my medicine, put it in the cupboard next to my bed.” I knew why.
He never managed to get out of bed again except to stagger to the bathroom. Not that he needed it too often as he was eating practically nothing! I would sit on the bed next to him whenever he was awake and we talked about just about everything. One evening he told me it was time for me to go to bed. I had been sleeping on the couch in the lounge for 2 weeks so that we did not disturb each other, not that I did too much sleeping but he felt better thinking he was not disturbing me. I knew then that he had decided that this was the night he was going to take the morphine.
In the early hours of the morning he managed to stagger into the lounge and just said one word –”Why?” When I went into the bedroom the first thing I saw was the glass next to his bed with an inch of sludge at the bottom. I told him he had not managed to mix the morphine properly, that was why. As I was about to take the glass out to throw it away he told me to leave and go and water the garden. I did. When I returned to the room a little later, the glass was empty and Roland was asleep.
That evening when he had not moved but was still breathing, I noticed the bed was wet and decided I could not just leave him there. I called the ambulance. They took him to hospital where I stood guard over him so they could not try anything stupid like trying to revive him. He did come around for a few minutes and just managed to mouth the words “Help me.” An hour later he died.
My feelings – If only he had let me help him mix the morphine I would have made sure it was properly mixed, if only he had let me go to the shop and get what he need it would have been much easier on both of us. If only he had been allowed the assistance of somebody who knew how to put a clean end to his life, which was coming to an end anyway.
None of this tells anything of what a kind, loving person Roland was. He was an optimist, he enjoyed people, he loved music, movies and, in fact, life – but on his terms. He should have been allowed to depart on his terms.
Pam Sander, 5 August 2015