Lessons Learned: Knowing When to Say Good-bye

At the end of last week’s blog, I mentioned “Aunt” Harriet who passed away that morning at the age of 87. She wasn’t my real aunt but close to it. She was a single career woman, a rarity back in the day, who took care of her mother and travelled. She had a sense of humor, was smart, and knew when to say good-bye.

A few days before she passed away, she had told her niece that she wasn’t feeling well and her shoulders hurt. Nancy took her to the doctor’s office and soon after she had a heart attack. They admitted her into the hospital. She needed a stent put in. One doctor said it was too risky and another doctor agreed to do it. While in surgery, she went into cardiac arrest. They had her on life support. Next step was a pacemaker.

After surgery, Harriet was alert and understood what was going on. She did not want the pacemaker. She wanted to “go.” The doctors kept questioning her decision as they knew she would survive if the pacemaker was inserted. Harriet wanted none of it. At 87-years-old, she knew it was her time to say good-bye. She wanted off life support. And, she was impatient because it was taking too long to die. Nancy had to explain that it wasn’t just pulling the plug. Even when she was off all machines, Harriet wanted Nancy to shoot her. Of course, Nancy explained that she couldn’t do that to her. She died the next morning.

I had cried when I heard Nancy say that they were taking her off life support. I cried knowing I’d have to tell my mom that another person close to her was dying. But when I went to see her, to say good-bye, my tears turned into smiles. I saw her determination and bravery. She knew what she wanted. I could only guess that she didn’t want to end up in a nursing home or grow so old that she had no quality of life. I have great admiration for someone knowing when to call it quits. She had a great life and it was time to move on. I hope that when I’m as old as her, I can make that same decision.

Harriet

Harriet

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