CHICAGO, March 28, 2013 — Mary is a perfectly healthy, middle-aged woman who has made an interesting end-of-life decision. She has decided that she will decide when it is time to end her life.
Mary has watched as her grandparents and half of her children’s grandparents have wasted away through illness or old age, and she didn’t like what she saw. Mary has vowed that her final days will be different.
Mary is not from a wealthy family. She is not from a particularly healthy family, either. Heart disease and diabetes have touched almost every member of the family older than Mary. She tries to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but she knows you can’t outrun your DNA.
Mary’s father, father-in-law and grandparents all spent several of their last months in and out of hospitals, if not hospitalized full-time. The stress was extremely hard on the entire family, but it also seems to have become a rite of passage in our society.
Following her grandparents’ deaths, Mary knew what to expect when her and her husband’s parents started failing. There would be lots of trips to the hospital, always trying to enter the room with a smile. There would be guilt when her father called, but she just couldn’t make it to the hospital that day.
There would be the anguish of watching the hero of her youth slowly succumb to his kryptonite. It is Mary’s turn to go through it now; it will be her children’s turn next.
If the heart doesn’t give out on its own, eventually someone has to decide when to invoke the living will or, if there is none, when to withdraw life support. While Mary found that decision surprisingly easy when it came to her father, her grandmother had had a more difficult time with it years earlier. Mary’s children won’t have to worry about it.
Mary will never be a burden to her children.
Now, before everyone gets all in a huff about how elderly people should be cherished, not considered a burden, keep in mind that this is Mary’s decision. You are free to make your own. But hear her out. She’s not done yet.
Mary’s parents and grandparents worked hard all of their lives to provide for themselves and their families. Some of them died poor anyway. Most of them had been able to save enough to cover the cost of their funerals.
Some of them were able to leave a bit behind for their children. Or at least they thought they did. Then the hospital and doctor bills came due.
Researchers from Mount Sinai School of Medicine reported last September that 43 percent of people on Medicare have spent more than their total assets (minus their primary residence) on out-of-pocket healthcare expenses in the last five years of their lives.
Spent more than their total assets. On healthcare.
Mary lives in Chicago, where a few years ago she watched Blue Cross and Blue Shield double the size of their skyscraper headquarters. She read the recent Time Magazine article on how the not-for-profit hospitals are flying above the recession she still feels in her own bank account. Mary’s family had worked hard, and the healthcare industry was the only one to benefit from it.
And so Mary decided that at some point, be it upon receiving a terminal diagnosis or just reaching a certain point of dependency, she will spend a week or so visiting far away friends and relatives and a week or two basking in the love of her family. And maybe she’ll go skydiving.
Then she will end her life. On her own terms, in her own way.
Mary’s family will suffer her loss. They will grieve. But they will not have their last memories of Mary marred by the stress of a final illness or the guilt of feeling relieved that she is finally gone. And the hospital will not have her hard-earned savings. It will go to the people and causes that mean the most to Mary.
It may be obvious that Mary is not extremely religious. It may be surprising, then, that Mary is actually quite spiritual. She prays, meditates and sometimes says grace before meals. If she doesn’t get a full grace in, she raises her glass and offers God a toast with a wink of her eye.
She’s not terribly concerned, though, about how her possible suicide will affect her afterlife. She’s a mother whose goal is to spare her children as much pain as she can, no matter the consequences.
Is she wrong?
Mary is one of Julia Goralka’s favorite people to share a cup of coffee with, even when the conversation strays from their usual light, witty banter. Julia hopes this continues for many years, but knows in her heart that it won’t.
Contact Julia via Facebook at www.facebook.com/julia.goralka or through the Ask Me A Question link above.
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