Posted by Moira Jackson on Nov 09, 2017
How often do we see or hear those words?  We’re expecting the devastation of “The Big One” one day so many of us are dutifully prepared. 
Recently we received yet another reminder, an elaborate emergency planning flowchart. The message contained seemed analogous to another kind of life-changing emergency all families go through at some time, as ours has recently.  
In many families’, death is a taboo subject. In ours, it was part of the rhythm of Vicarage life. The natural culmination of life, hopefully well lived, sometimes too short, sometimes very long, sometimes expected, often not, always resulting in seismic activity within families and communities.  Few deaths are well prepared for, many often recalled with regret for what could have been managed better. Which brings me back to our protocols for preparing for an earthquake!
In my family, we’ve had Enduring Power of Attorneys (EPoA) with “Living Wills” (Advanced Directives (AD)) alongside Final Testaments, through 3 generations.  It’s doubtlessly saved much family debate and potential acrimony when emotions were raw and thinking not rational.  The EPoA ensured at least two family members were well versed in the final wishes and instructions of the author before being legally authorized to take responsibility for decisions. The AD authorised the spokesperson(s) to stop medical intervention if the quality of life was no longer viable. Discussions included the nature of the final rites of farewell.
From my Grandfather to my husband, I’ve been “that person” in my family.  Whilst emotionally very costly, I considered it a privilege and an honour to be the custodian of the final wishes of the family members we’ve loved so dearly, lived with closely, and respected so highly.  We were as prepared as we could be. 
Sadly, it wasn’t enough. Dad’s last words to me were, “You never let our dogs suffer, why are you making me suffer?” I’m sure he didn’t mean to be accusatory.
Clearly, morphine was not controlling the discomfort or preventing the terrible fear he was experiencing.  Neither a
EPoA, or AD, could ensure a dignified, painless passing. I walked almost every awful step of his 5 days of struggle with him. Similarly, Brian’s struggle to die is also a traumatic memory for our daughters.  We could not have left him to battle on his own.
Soon it will be our girls’ turn to take on the responsibility I have carried. The discussions have been had over many years, with not a few heated arguments about how to know when enough is enough!  The documents have been prepared and signed by all parties. The “enacting process” merely requires my say-so or a letter from my GP.  But we still have no legal proxy for those vital final decisions.
So when the opportunity comes to decide on legalising an individual’s right to die in peace, and with chemically aided dignity, because the end is close and inevitable but the crossing likely to be rough, please let’s be sure our children or grandchildren are not left with painful recollections of our final days to mar the memories of the lives we’ve tried to live well.  Let’s demand the right to be properly prepared.