Mike Essig

I think we do have a choice, to an extent. I was given lessons in dying by both of my parents.

Dad, who got struck down with prostate cancer at age 76, elected not to have surgery, chemo or radiation — he considered what a quality existence would look like through any of those options, weighed the risks, and chose to just let the cancer take him, but lived out his days with much dignity, and died the way he lived, his way. He made it halfway through 77 — the pain was only completely debilitating for the last 2 weeks, but even then, he had moments of clarity, and there were some glorious moments, even at the end.

Dad shared his demise with all of his friends and considerable family, and really had what I considered a good end.

Mom fought through numerous ailments and injuries, back surgeries, a broken neck at age 85 that never fully healed, finally running out of breath at age 88. I spent most of her last 3 months at her side.

She played bridge right up to 5 days before she died (and came in second!) — we sat on the beach together for 3 hours, ten days before she died. She had confided in me, earlier that year, that she was “on the downhill slide, now”. I asked if she was scared, and she said, “Not at all. I just want it to go quickly”.

She told me the night before the day at the beach that she was “going soon” — she said it with a smile — I said, “That’s still what you want, right?”

“Oh, yes!”

I was right beside her, her last 11 hours. I felt her spirit leave when she breathed her last breath, me holding her hand. It was the holiest moment of my entire life. I knew she was fine, that she’d died on her own terms, and that her spirit was whole. I grieved her loss, hard, for the next year — but that was for my loss.

Their examples showed me that we can choose how we go. They both went out the way they wanted to go. Home hospice, in both of their cases, made a good end so much more possible.

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