THE SADDEST OF IRONIES
The Los Angeles Times headline came out one day before it happened to us: “Making a date with death.”
Everybody heard about it—the 29-year-old woman who moved to Oregon so she could choose her own death. Brittany Maynard has stage-four brain cancer and wants to die in her own way on a date of her own choosing. A group called Compassion and Choices supports her—and even more, advocates for this right in other states.
There was no choice in my daughter’s house. For a year, almost to the day, Brad’s brain tumor had its way in his life and in Tracy’s, dictating that he would never again drive a car, that an eleven-hour surgery would cost him significant loss of eyesight and speech, and that Tracy would be his full-time nurse—with yes, some amazing help from an angel, Lorena, whom she found in the last month. A multitude of friends also helped—with more dinners and visits and outpourings of love than any of us could have imagined. Tracy’s friends and family and Lorena literally sustained her.
Still, the year was Tracy’s to live through, and neither Brad nor Tracy could dictate any of it—how long he’d be able to walk, when speech would utterly desert him, whether he would end up spending nearly two months in bed, unable to leave, and mostly unable to eat or move.
One day after the headline, last night in fact, our family’s agony ended. And in her own way, Tracy brought Brad the best death possible—with a young man, an intern from Brad’s company, playing a guitar and singing the kind of music Brad loved—for a solid two hours, until Brad took the last of several deep breaths. Some of this was accidental—until the last part of the day nobody even knew that Anthony played the guitar, or that, like James Taylor, he had such a sweet singing voice. Once we discovered his talents, Tracy begged him to keep playing, and he did.
Everybody has his own opinion of Brittany Maynard’s decision—and even now, I’m not sure I would have chosen such an abrupt ending for Brad. During that year he had a few relatively decent months—able to walk his daughter down the aisle, even take two family trips. But the last few months . . . those were a lifetime that were better cut short. Hospice helped—but not enough. Brad sometimes held a finger to his head—playfully?—indicating he would shoot himself.
California has no answers, at least none that are legal. Perhaps we need a few.