To Die, or When to Die – that is my question?


Controversial Topic Warning!  This is me with my lovely nan taken just prior to Christmas 2016 when she had been in a care home for nine months after having a nasty fall in the January and breaking her hip at the age 91.  She is an amazing woman who is so very special to me and I am extraordinarily lucky to have had my grandmother for so many years of my life.

Her 94th birthday is approaching in just over a week’s time.  I would love to be saying “she will be celebrating her 94th birthday …” but sadly, she will not be, and maybe even sadder, we as a family will not be celebrating either, just left to wonder how on earth she is still hanging in there!  Please don’t misunderstand me, I do not want my nan to die, but she began disappearing from her physical body shortly after the photo above was taken.  She is now hardly more than a skeleton in a bed she has not been out of at all for 3 birthdays.

Before her fall, she was active and alert.  Both she, and my grandad (2 years her senior), lived independently together in their little bungalow, still enjoying trips out for lunch, visits and always ready for a chat over tea and cake, reminiscing and laughing – my inspirational swans!  They had been married over 70 years and had never spent a night apart. Amazing.  They always said they would “go together” as neither could bare the thought of living without the other.  Then came Nan’s fall …..

Spending a whole weekend in hospital before her operation (they don’t like to operate at weekends) she finally had her operation and it was a success.  However, what she needed so much at that age was care and assistance to use her hip and not cease up, but this wasn’t given and instead she was returned home by ambulance and left to the care of her 93 year old husband.  A care plan should have been in place before the hospital discharged her, the family had to provide as much emergency care as possible and fight to get a care plan in place.  Finally it was arranged for carers to come in 3 times a day to give Nan help washing and sort her meals.

But poor Grandad.  We would buy him “ready meals” and cook extras so he would have meals in the freezer.  But he had started getting forgetful and couldn’t remember how to use the microwave at times.  With Nan unable to get out of bed, she would call for him to help her.  He tried bless him but it was too much for him.  Nan changed suddenly after that.  Along with the physical restrictions she was changing, we were told she had dementia and the fall had triggered it.  She would ask him to help her out of bed but he was too frail to do this and he was depressed and saddened by the whole situation and his health started to go downhill.

He worried constantly about not only how he could help her, but he feared being in the same situation as her.  Even then he tried to comfort me when I visited one day and couldn’t hide the tears, putting his arms around me and saying, “It is sad darling, but we are old, that’s what happens, we have had good lives but you still have yours and need to live it not spend it here”.  Eventually, it was considered it would be best for him to have some respite time and for Nan to go into a care home for a short while where hopefully if she got some physio and help she could move again things would get easier.

Sadly, just weeks after Nan went into care Grandad deteriorated quickly, got taken into hospital and passed within hours.  The family were stunned.  We had been prepared to lose Nan many times over the past months but not Grandad.  I feel he just couldn’t cope and he couldn’t bare to see Nan so helpless and forgetful.

Nan had started to not always recognise who we were when we visited.  Sometimes she asked where Grandad was and called his name at night.  We were in a dilemma as to where she should be told he had passed or not.  I felt she should be told, but didn’t know if she would take it in, remember it, or whether it would be so unbearable for her.  In the end she asked me directly one day where he was.  Tears sprung, I held her hand and shook my head, “he is waiting for you Nan”.  There were tears in her eyes I am sure, but she blinked, changed the subject, and offered me a chocolate.  She had always found it hard to share her emotions – but I don’t really know if she took it in.

So, my beautiful swans always knew they couldn’t say good-bye to each other and they didn’t.  Nan unable to get to the funeral even if she had been aware and able to, and Grandad no longer seeing his wife changed, unknowing him and passed before he feared he would need to go to her funeral.

I miss my grandad and grieve for him so much, but am thankful that he did not have to suffer going into care which was his biggest fear.  My nan, I grieve for the loss of the spirit of her, even while her body still continues to function.  Nan is existing not living.   For myself, I know I do not want to end my life the way my grandmother has to.

I do not fear death but I do fear loss of control, I fear living in a country where we have no choice as to how and when we die.  Is this fear, that others must feel too, going to lead to more people taking the option of suicide, and it would need to be an ‘early suicide’ when you are still able to do this?  Then the fear of would you succeed, would you have the strength?   I don’t think suicide is selfish, I think in some circumstances (and I have others to explore!) it is a selfless act.  I just wish we could have choice and control,  assistance, when the time is right for us so we don’t have to fear our final years, whenever they may be.  Why can’t we be allowed this dignity, we are kinder to animals?  After all, those who don’t agree with assisted dying do not have to choose this option.  I do not say they are not allowed to suffer if they want to, so why do those against it say we must?

Pain, fear, suffering or any kind, is surely a form of torture?  Are those who say you must deal with it happy to see human’s suffer?  Would they be able to look into the eyes of any individual who wanted to be relieved from their pain and suffering, and say, “sorry, you need to suffer?” or would you rather allow them to slip painlessly away?