COMMENTARY: Being part of the assisted death process, as a friend or relative, offers the possibility of true transformation. When my longtime dear friend, Pat, chose to be one of the first California residents to choose this option, I immediately became involved in the process.
In New Mexico, a bill has been introduced into the Legislature that would allow those suffering from incurable diseases to choose the time and place of their demise. Being able to co-create one’s passing gives dignity to destiny and sometimes can ennoble the participants involved in the passing.
Pat chose life until the very end, when it was clear that the growth of her ovarian cancer tumors would soon erase any option of dying at home. Always an early adopter, she had opted into opting out and was excited about it.
My first conversation with Pat on this new pathway took place a few weeks ago when I was traveling in Israel. My group had spent the day in a deep conversation with members of the Druze sect. The topic was reincarnation, one of their core beliefs.
Later that night, to my surprise, Pat and I would ramble on and maybe forward about reincarnation, at least her romanticized version of it that didn’t include the scary Bardo state that every reader of the Tibetan Book of the Dead cannot easily forget. It was clear that reincarnation was included as part of and maybe the reason for her choice. It was the way that included the light.
Pat clung to life as she prepared for its final passage. She was calling the shots via 90 pills — a toxic cocktail that would take her beyond the trippy and into the big trap. In our two subsequent U.S. phone calls, she discussed canceling her pension, giving away her possessions and clearing out her files. She wanted to get an “A” in pre-mortem organization. Pat felt good about herself. The phone tied us up like gift wrapping.
This type of superficial conversation was difficult for me. I wanted to talk about death and closure, but, of course, this wasn’t my time nor my conversation to formulate. All the deaths I had ever experienced — suicide, plane crashes, business trips — were sudden, with no opportunity to love and hug even over the phone.
At the end, all I could offer Pat was a quote from Dr. Seuss. She liked it and said it would be included in her carefully planned memorial. He said, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile, because it happened.”
I learned that maybe final farewells never really happen anyway. People die as they live with the same focus on life coupled with the fear of the forever held tightly in check. It was all about me after all, but not in the way I expected.
Thank you, Pat, for your present of presence. Please check in with me. Let me know how it’s going.
I had received a gift from Pat but not in the way I expected. Strains of Leonard Cohen’s powerful song “Hallelujah” would play in my head just about the time that she would be nodding off. She did it her way and took me along for the ride.
Mary Costello is a journalist who holds a PhD in mythological studies and depth psychology. Her prime area of interest is woman’s story and mental health advocacy. Currently she is working on a memoir, Mary’s Story: Part I. She writes from Tesuque, N.M. and the world.