For some reason, I have been struggling with myself recently ... about a decision I had to make in the early hours of January 6th 2009.
When Cliff was moved from ER to another ward, having suffered a massive stroke, the lovely Irish sister there told me that because I knew him better than her, that I was to tell her if I thought he needed more diamorphine (or morphine, I forget which) ... and at the time, he didn't seem agitated, rather he appeared to be sleeping, but his breathing was noisy. That's the only way I can describe it ... but he didn't appear to be in pain.
Up till the Senior Sister mentioned this to me, I hadn't even considered that he might be in pain. I simply assumed that he was dying, he was unconscious, he was sleeping, he would not wake up, and that my voice was reaching him on some level ... that he could hear what I was saying to him, and that he was not afraid.
I can remember the fear and panic rising within me when she said that.
PAIN. God no. I would not let him suffer.
This man would have died for me. I loved him then and love him still.
For the first time in his adult life, he was laying there, vulnerable, unable to protect himself, and he was the bravest, strongest man I ever knew.
And there was no way on earth that I would let him suffer any pain, that I would not protect him, that I would not do what was best for him, as I know that he would have done for me.
I knew beyond doubt that he was dying.
To give some context, let me share that at the time, I also remembered my big sister telling a nurse - in a different hospital - that, "it's about time she had some TLC, don't you think?" on the third day after our Mom suffered her fatal stroke. Her breathing also become more laboured/noisy, in fact, it sounded a great deal worse than Cliff's. I was pretty oblivious to the cryptic conversation that was going on next to me, until my sister gently explained to me that it was common practice to give patients an extra shot of diamorphine to help them die peacefully, painlessly and that, "it wouldn't be long now". I remember leaving the room when they administered the shot, because, even though in my heart, I absolutely knew this was the right (and loving) thing to do, I just couldn't watch it. I was 29 years old at the time.
So I understood what they were offering us.
The only issue I had was this. If he wasn't in pain, surely it would be better to allow him to die "naturally". That was it. But I would NEVER have taken my own selfish wish - of delaying his death - into consideration. NEVER. And, I didn't.
I announced to John (and Cliff) that I was going for a cigarette, and he came along. I can remember smoking that cigarette furiously fast, then telling John that I was going back to Cliff - and John extinguishing his cigarette half-finished, because he would not leave my side, just as I would not abandon Cliff. We quickly returned to the ward, and I went straight to the Sister and looked her in the eyes, asking her, "is there any chance at all that he might be in pain?"
She said that he might be uncomfortable, and in a heartbeat I asked her to administer the extra dose. I didn't even stop and think. There wasn't a choice as far as I was concerned. This was the ONLY choice.
I told Cliff that they were giving him something just in case he was in pain, and not to worry, there would be no more needles because there was a line in his arm already. That he could sleep, and that I loved him, loved him, loved him, and always would, that he didn't need to worry about anything anymore, that he didn't need to worry about me - I would be alright - that he could just relax and go to sleep. It's OK darling .... I shan't leave you, not for a second, I'm here baba ...
Within 5 minutes, his breathing went very quiet and I never left him or cried. I left him for a total of around 30 minutes during the 12 hours that passed between him having the stroke and taking his last breath. And never let my voice falter in front of him. I held him, soothed him, stroked his hair, held his hand, all the while talking, later whispering to him.
I can remember holding my breath literally just before he took his last - as if I knew on some primal level ... and when he stopped, I wanted to carry on holding my own - but my body would not allow me to do this.
I knew I had done the right thing. I was so relieved that any pain he may have had was short-lived and that he went without pain or fear.
It brought a whole new meaning to the old saying, "If you love someone ... you have to let them go" - I had had to literally put those words into action twice ... firstly, verbally telling him it was OK to go ... secondly, agreeing that they administered extra meds.
But almost 12 months later, I started questioning the decision that I made on that darkest of nights.
And right on cue, my favourite counsellor, Marty Tousley published this post and article from the New York Times. I read the whole article, and the viewers' comments.
And again, felt relief.
It had been the right decision all along.
If you truly love someone, you have to let them go. It's the last loving and caring thing you can do for them. It's a selfless act ... and it proves to them and to yourself, how much you love them. Because you put their needs above your own ... in fact you don't even stop to consider your own because they do not matter.