An honorable death

I just watched an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. It almost makes me want to take that book off my shelf, but then I remember that the show has nothing to do with the book. It’s just a TV show.

But in tonight’s episode, here’s the scenario. [Disclaimer: I didn’t see the show from the beginning, so I missed some of the work-up to these moments in film.] There’s a man, with a bad heart. He’s in the hospital. His daughter somehow ends up in the hospital too, while he’s there. I guess it was a car accident or something. She’s in a vegetative state, and they want to pull the plug on her. As it turns out, conveniently enough, she has organ donor instructions on her driver’s license, and so they want the father to authorize them to pull the plug on his daughter, to honor her donor request, and to be the recipient for his own daughter’s heart. He thinks about it for a moment, and then refuses!

What else could he do? He’s an honorable man. How could he dream of doing that? He even it: it would haunt him, every day of his life, to have his daughter’s heart beating in his chest. Even though she wanted to be a donor to someone who needed it. Even though he needed it. Even though she would be the perfect donor for him. “She would have wanted her dad to have her heart,” they told him. The hospital staff pushed and pushed. And so, finally, he acquiesced.

I felt my own heart sink.

We love our parents. I loved my dad, more than words can say, who died last year. I lost my uncle last year too. It was not a good year in that regard. But – sad though it is – parents are supposed to go before their children. It is a natural rhythm. On the other hand, I don’t think there’s anything that can compare with the loss a parent feels in losing a child. As adults, we’re supposed to understand certain things. We know that people live, hopefully for many years, with many accomplishments and many happy moments, and then at the end, hopefully with a degree of comfort and dignity, they die. That is the Master Rhythm we all operate under. And when that rhythm is upended – as it was with two ex-lovers of mine who died way before their time – it was hard enough for me, and for the rest of their friends. But also present among us were their mothers, in that final moment. Having seen their faces, I have no doubt that each of them, regardless of what anyone may have felt about their mothering qualities, good or bad… Each of them felt a sting that I don’t think any of the rest of us could possibly feel in the same way. You’re not supposed to lose your children. It’s just not supposed to happen that way.

Yesterday I learned of the death of the relative of someone I work with. It was uncanny; the man had just phoned the office last week, and for weeks before, without change. Yes, he was old: I hear he was 93! That’s great! He had already lived a long and fruitful life, a wonderful accomplishment in and of itself. And he was still healthy, and in control of his faculties.

But he had been losing weight lately. He felt something was changing, and he knew what it was. He was dying. He was at that turning point, that some of us reach much younger, but he was blessed to reach at a very ripe old age. He was at the point where he knew with personal certainty that his time had come, that his time was up. From here on, he would not be able to function independently, and that he would not be in command of himself, that he would require constant care, that he would no longer be compos mentis. And so he decided for himself how it would end. He refused to eat, and refused to drink. He did not do so in an agressive way, he simply would not take food or drink. He made it clear what he was doing, and his family had to – and I believe did, with great understanding – respect him and his wishes. He died the way he wanted to. And he was buried today.

So now I watch this claptrap program about life in a hospital, the “behind the scenes” view. And I can only shake my head, write a letter, and thank God that I live in a different world. I hope that I have the opportunity to show that I have one tenth the courage, strength, charity and wisdom to do what the “real life” ailing man did. And I hope that in their sunset years, the writers of these programs on TV realize that just because they emasculated the character-man in front of us, it doesn’t really have to be that way. It is ok to have some dignity at the end. It is ok to finally say, “enough’s enough.”

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One thought on “An honorable death

  1. wow, Private Practice must have the same writers, on the episode that aired on 1/15/09 a father that carried a bacteria couldn’t be with his daughter (age 9) that was dying of the bacterial infection, because if he came in contact with her the bacteria he carried would somehow activate and he would surely die. He was conflicted, because he had a younger son that was healthy, but he couldnt decide to live for his son, or be there for his dying daughter, and ultimately die with her. Hid decision in the end was to be with his daughter as she died, leaving his younger son alone, because the mother had just recently died earlier that year. LOL these shows can really get deep, into morals and philosophy.

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