Why Compassionate Care Is Way Overdue

She managed to smile through all of the pain. She deserved the right to choose when she wanted to die.

She managed to smile through all of the pain. She deserved the right to choose when she wanted to die.

There are remarkably poised women in this world who unknowingly reach right into my soul, grab it, and shake it up. They’re the ones who lock eyes with adversity and stare it down … turning it into a positive through sheer will. They have a pure sense of self awareness that is enviable. They somehow gain power in a powerless position. And I never forget them … those women who manage to transform me on some level.

My mom was one of those women. I quite literally cling to the lessons she taught me during her 11 year duel with ovarian cancer … to live in hope, to always choose humor, to find beauty in every day, to wear lipstick even when you feel like sh*t, to stop worrying about things you can’t change … and to change the things you can.

At 41, I am still my mom’s student in life almost one year after her death … at times failing miserably. So, it is beyond incomprehensible to me that women like Brittany Maynard — you know, the 29-year-old who is going to die on her own terms on November 1, exist.

Courtesy Brittany Maynard

Courtesy Brittany Maynard

If you, by chance, haven’t heard of Brittany Maynard, I will tell you a little about this woman I have added to my personal never ever forget list. Diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma (a malignant brain tumor), doctors say Brittany will die in a “terrible, terrible way.” Instead of accepting her fate, she reworked it. She moved to Oregon — famous among the terminally ill for its Death With Dignity Act — so she can go when she is ready to say goodbye. She’s choosing to exit this world two days after her husband’s birthday … hopefully before her suffering gets to the point of “terrible.”

Brittany’s plight hit me … hard.

My mom didn’t fear dying, she was scared about how she would die. We had countless conversations about it, ones where I was brave in front of her and then burst into tears in the privacy of my car. She couldn’t stop talking about a documentary she watched about a woman who planned her death in Oregon. Her family threw her a party — the best kind, with laughter and tears — and then she went peacefully, before she had to wait to die. That’s what a lot of terminally ill people do, by the way, if you’ve never witnessed it — they wait to die.

The year my mom died, an assisted suicide ballot question did not pass in our home state of Massachusetts. My mom was devastated. She only shared that heartache with me, knowing I would get it … as I was so frightened about how she would die, too. We talked about going to Oregon … it was like a promised land, in a way … but, thankfully, she wound up dying without wasting away in hospice (of sepsis).

No one wanted to live more than my mom (except maybe Brittany), but her disease was out of her control. She knew she would die and she didn’t want it to be in the most excruciatingly painful way possible. I never wanted to let my mom go (I still don’t), but I valued the quality of her life more than the quantity because I loved her so much. Who can’t understand that? Why is this even an issue?

Brittany is spending her last month alive campaigning for the nonprofit Compassion & Choices, an end-of-life choice advocacy organization, to fight for expanding death-with-dignity laws nationwide. Her choice is obviously beyond brave, and her voice is much needed, but it is truly sad this young woman must take this on when she is facing so much already. If you oppose compassionate care, I hope photos of my mom and Brittany Maynard shake you up. Chances are, you’re only thinking in hypothetical terms; you’re not dying. It’s time to listen to the people who are dying. They’re the only ones who matter in this debate.

Please consider supporting the Brittany Maynard Fund to expand death-with-dignity to all Americans.

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