My dog, Rainbow is fifteen years old, She is still chugging along but her body is breaking down. Since I’m the one who will eventually choose when to put her down, I have set some criteria to guide me. I have a $5,000 limit on medical bills. Anything costing more, I allegedly won’t authorize. Incontinence and an inability to walk unaided are deal breakers. What I didn’t take into account was the cost of various procedures I’ve had done to Rainbow this year. My husband and I have spent nearly $2,000 on her health problems. Do I say no if some $3,000 intervention is required in the coming months or even next year? My family and I grapple with how long we let her live. The good news is that when her time comes, I will be able to choose to put her down in comfort with family around her.
So why on earth, can’t we do the same thing for our human family members, even in right-to-die states? I read a harrowing article recently about a woman with ALS, who chose to die. She found it difficult to find a doctor to guide her and her family through the process. Even though they eventually found one, her death consisted of the family breaking open tablets of meds and making a cement-like cocktail, which she could barely drink. There was no time for songs and prayers, just a desperate race to help her get it down. After she passed, the house was smoky with the powder from the pills. My dog will have a more humane end to her life than this poor woman. Why do I think about this stuff? Because my mom has been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for the past seven years and I can’t help but worry about my own future.
My mother has lived in my brother’s loving home with twenty-four hour care, for the last three years. Thankfully she has the resources to pay for this care, which also makes her living with my brother and his family manageable for them. If I were to end up like my mom, I will not be in the same financial situation and have the kind of care that she enjoys. Many of my friends are dealing with parents with dementia and like me, worry about getting this disease and becoming long-term burdens to their children. Most of them are in their fifties and are beginning to think about downsizing sooner rather than later. Some are not even sure they want to stick around until the end.
One friend’s husband has requested that when he can no longer care for himself he be put in a dinghy and set out to sea. Another has asked me to be her “plug-puller” because she knows her family won’t do it. I cannot imagine myself clutching her living will in one hand and lunging for the plug with the other, while her sobbing family is trying to tackle me before I can do it. One of my kids has asked me to sign a contract saying he can pull the plug in the event I follow in my mother’s footsteps.
All of these scenarios got me fantasizing about starting a business called Out With A Bang! The idea is that terminal people could plan their deaths. Depending on their desires, they could host a big party beforehand, say goodbye, and then die in a preplanned manner. I’ve actually floated this idea to friends and family on both coasts and was surprised that not only was no one horrified; they thought it was an interesting idea.
I was explaining my concept to one of my sister-in-laws whose mother also has Alzheimer’s. When I told her of the various packages I came up with: Swimming with Sharks (no cage), Skydiving (no parachute), or the Thelma & Louise (convertible included), she didn’t like those choices.
“I wouldn’t want to go that way.”
“How about the Sleeping Beauty? We’d have a big party in castle with all your family and friends; You’d be decked out in a beautiful gown. At the end of the celebration, we’d lay you down in a gorgeous bed with beautiful flowers where you’d say your final goodbyes. You’d get a kiss from your prince, take a bite of the poisoned apple, and off you go! It would be Sleeping Beauty in reverse!”
“Ooh, I like that!”
Just in case you’re thinking I’m crazy, I’m not. There are already businesses that offer end-of-life parties and alternative funerals. There have been articles in the news about terminally ill people planning for their deaths by writing last letters to family and friends and drafting their own obituaries. Some cemeteries are now allowing you to be buried with your pets. Betsy Davis, a young ALS sufferer, recently threw her own end-of-life party, no crying allowed! Everyone celebrated, divided up her things, and then she went up the hill and had her last cocktail. If you think about it, we come into the world somewhat unceremoniously, why not leave ceremoniously? Why not go out with a bang?