During the seemingly endless health care reform debate, we heard a lot of scare tactic propaganda about “death panels” and pulling the plug on grandma.
I lost my grandmother in March after months of deteriorating health conditions for her. I cannot oversell how much this woman meant to me or my family. The Davis clan is not the mostly tightly knit group or sentimental tribe, but everyone in my family had a soft spot of love and admiration for the woman I’ve spent my life calling Gram.
And yet, I believe we all thought about pulling the plug on grandma at some point.
During my pre-teen years, I spent a lot of time with Gram. She was loving yet firm and fearless. As I grew up, I watched her husband, my Pa-Pa, grow backwards as Alzheimer’s took hold of him. It was tough, but she took it in stride as he lost his memories, his self control and his ability to take care of himself.
Yet Gram remained vibrant and capable for long years, even after Pa-Pa’s death. She shouldered burdens for the rest of family — often financially, though she never had more than a few hundred dollars in her own savings account.
I’ve never met her equal in generosity or spirit. To meet her was to love her immediately.
But Gram spent the last months of her life in agony as she lost her ability to walk and lost that beautiful mind as she was hit with mini-stroke after mini-stroke and the tumor grew in her lungs. The woman who couldn’t be beaten, who had a kind word for everyone, was broken with pain those last weeks, lashing out at family members for imagined slights.
After she finally passed and I looked at her, Gram hardly resembled the woman I knew. Every last moment of those stretched out agonies was etched into a face that deserved nothing but comfort and joy.
I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know where the cutoff point is — where you say enough is enough. But I have to believe there’s a better answer than prolonged, brutal suffering in the face of the inevitable.
It’s well past time for our society to start a rational discussion about dying with dignity.