To Take a Life-Part 2

For part 1 of this post please go here.

I watched as she stabbed a piece of potato with a fork and gently placed it to his lips. “Ready for one more bite?” my mom asks, before sliding the potato inside his mouth.

I looked closely at my dad as he chewed that small piece of food for what seemed like an eternity before finally swallowing. He makes no eye contact with either of us, his gaze fixated on the dinner napkin he repeatedly creases out, folds up and then unfolds before starting the process again.

Is he aware at all of what’s happening? Is it painful having to depend on others for help with the most personal of matters??  Does the indignity of it all cause a piece of him to die every time he thinks about it?  Does he even think any more?  Where is the value in a life like this?

I ask because earlier that same day I had paid a veterinarian to kill my cat who was sick and in pain. I was too, as the heartache of watching him slowly fade away and dealing with the stress of constant care had taken a toll. My cat was suffering and facing death soon and the rational and responsible choice I’m told, was to hurry the process along.  I did and am at peace with it. Mostly.

Why is okay to end my cat’s life prematurely like this but not my dad’s?  I’m not staking out a political position here,  nor looking for any grand debate, just fleshing out thoughts that have been ping ponging inside my head lately.  For the record, I don’t think it would be okay to pay someone to off my dad, but am struggling with why.  I love my dad and don’t wish to see him die, yet it’s hard to fathom him wanting to live this way.

He had been going downhill for years, but much more rapidly during this past one. In addition to his cognitive problems, he has severe back pain that keeps him wheelchair bound and has frequent bouts of anger with his caregivers, with my mom, me or anyone else that tries to get him to do something he has it in his mind not to do.

Needless to say none of this is pleasant for anyone involved, especially my mom and I fear the stress will kill her.  The situation is stuffed to the gills with misery and suffering yet still, I believe it would be wrong to purposely end his life as would be called for with a beloved pet.

God gave humans dominion over the animals, which means we are their caretakers and are to treat them with dignity and respect. The authority to take the life of an animal is ours, if doing so is merciful and filled with grace.  Ending your pet’s suffering humanely when no realistic options exist certainly meets this standard.

People are different. For one thing we don’t have dominion over each other and therefore no one person has the moral authority to take the life of another outside of extreme circumstances. In my dad’s case it would not be him making the decision, but a family member or medical professional who has no idea really what he wants.

There is also the question of value. As I wrote in an earlier post ,

“Life is always precious, no matter the physical or mental condition of the body. Who are we to assign less value to a man because his mind is failing and his legs are weak? To judge the road one is forced to take as not fair and unjust?  

A painful and probably undeserved journey yes, but one loaded with blessings if you give up control and acknowledge there is a bigger plan being worked out here, a higher purpose you are assigned a sacred role in.”

We cannot determine the value of another person, that is God’s job and through his eyes we are all of equal worth, no matter how physically and mentally broken down we are. The Imago Dei, or being made in God’s image, gives us an intrinsic human dignity and value that cannot be taken away by illness or injury.  While animals can be beautiful, majestic and  loving, they do not share this trait with us.

There have also been some strikingly beautiful moments amidst this mess.  Watching my mom  carefully wipe soup from my dad’s chin, listening to his caretaker patiently work with him as he struggles to get words out, experiencing the kindness of a kitchen worker who sneaks my mom and I meals while we sit with my dad during dinner.   It’s good to be reminded that love like that exists in the world and that people really do care.  I have to believe this plays a significant role in any bad situation.

The reasons why people get horribly sick and maimed are not for us to know, only that deep beauty and grace  can be found among the worst of situations.  It’s in these moments that we realize how important our relationships to other people are and how astonishingly stupid most of the stuff we worry about in life is.

Sometimes only the door marked pain and suffering will bring us to that point.   Closing it prematurely may not always get us where we think it will.

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26 Responses to To Take a Life-Part 2

  1. Pingback: To Take a Life-Part 1 | Freedom Through Empowerment

  2. Wally Fry says:

    Perfect Tricia thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Talmidimblogging and commented:
    An important post, thanks Tricia!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. jncthedc says:

    Wearing your heart on your sleeve shows great sensitivity as well as great strength. We are a culture that seems to need to judge. Ironically, we’re terrible at it. As a doctor, I judge health; as a daughter you attempt to judge your father’s quality of life. We do our best, but are grossly limited by this thing called “BEING HUMAN.” I think as we age and hopefully become wiser, we turn the need to judge into the need to question in search for greater clarity. Our needs to impose right and wrong soften and we begin to accept life (both good and bad) in a new light. There is greater meaning even if our “BEING HUMAN” gets in the way of our understanding.

    We don’t understand where your father “lives his life” these days, but how often does he now have to contend with prejudice, terrorism, poverty, hatred and intolerance? His life is much less complicated and his condition causes increased simplicity. How many people today wish their lives could be simpler? Where we see your father as incapable of controlling his own life and decisions (based on his neurological status) he is now surrounded by people offering their care for him. How many people feel alone and isolated with no one to care for them?

    I am not trying to paint a pretty picture of neurocognitive disorders, but I am becoming less judgemental and learning to see and accept life from a new perspective. For me, it adds reassurance and a sense of calmness that things are ok. I hope these words provide some comfort knowing they come from a person who truly cares and has gone through the process you find yourself in. Even though we have never met, I am thankful to call you my friend. Take good care.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Tricia says:

      Jonathan, your perspective here is invaluable; both as a medical professional and someone who has gone through this yourself. I had never though of this angle before, of my dad’s life being simplified and surrounded by those that care and love him. While I will never truly understand what is going through his mind, I have to believe that offers some peace and comfort.

      Yes, we are all human, aren’t we? Complete with those pesky emotions and need to judge. Thank you my friend for sharing your wisdom.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is truly one of those terrible instances where doctrine and faith go “splat” against the Great Wall of Anguish.

    Nevertheless, if we equate the nature of cat and the nature of man, all sorts of hell breaks loose.

    For if human nature is equal with the nature of animals, what is construed in the name of mercy can also be construed in the name of any other desire.

    Consequently, it is necessary to leave the animals alone in this case and seek more fundamental truth having to do with the fundamental nature of man and his God.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. We have a duty to look after ourselves and those we love. If you were suffering in complete agony but didn’t know why it was happening to you, would you want to go on day after day? I’m not saying that we have no right to decide whether or not to end a pet’s suffering by having the animal put to sleep, in most cases that decision will be agonised over. When it comes to our parents and loved ones we have to respect their choices whether or not to continue when life is painful. We can’t make decisions based on our own choices because these are personal. All we can do is pray that the suffering ends before the pain keeps them awake all the time and leaves them wishing for death xo

    Liked by 1 person

    • I see much to agree with regarding your thinking here. I’m physically disabled, though not in a large amount of pain. But if that comes about — a cancer or other chronically painful disease — I’d have problems, as I am completely immune to pain medication. I am currently on about 60x the normal dose of narcotics, whose only effect is to relax some muscle spasms in my back that were shutting off all control from the waist down.

      With some large and constant source of pain present, I would be struggling to find much value in a continued life. And with a mental loss, as Tricia describes, I don’t know where I’d be, but it would amount to “no longer home.” In either case, Tricia’s thoughts and yours resonate with me.

      There are many things I want to do yet! But I am relying on luck to avoid a chronic pain condition — or Alzheimer’s.

      ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

      Liked by 3 people

      • Tricia says:

        Keith I’m sorry about your health issues. I can’t imagine being immune to pain medication and sincerely hope you never need it. I guess we all are relying on luck as to what the future holds health wise.

        I would struggle to find value in my life as well if in constant pain. I tell ya though I’ve read so many stories from people that not only find value under such circumstances but thrive and give hope to others. I’d like to think I could be like that but who knows. As Dave said, everyone’s choices are their own.


      • Take care Keith, and from one who is a user of narcotics to keep pain at a manageable level, let’s enjoy what life we have to the fullest it will allow. Love to you from my neck of the woods.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Tricia says:

      “All we can do is pray…” I think that right there is about the only and wisest choice to do in situations like this. Thanks Dave for your comment, you make a lot of sense.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. ColorStorm says:

    No great insights here for ya trish, only to say awesome post. Btw, you have enough of your own.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. David Ross says:

    The great dilemma for sure. I think we need a glass of wine to discuss this further though!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Citizen Tom says:

    Thank you for sharing.

    I don’t have any advice. I just agree with what you said.

    I will just observe that this is not a exactly a new problem. There have always been fragile people, so ill and weak they are unable to support themselves. A few have always waited painfully at the verge of death for what seems like a like time. Nothing truly new, and we still don’t know why this happens. All that is different is that we have the luxury of preserving our sick and injured a bit longer than those who went before us. Therefore, the moral dilemma remains the same, and the Golden Rule is still our best guide.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tricia says:

      So true Tom that caring for our sick loved ones for longer periods is a luxury. One that carries both blessings and curses no less but still something to be grateful for. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Canuck Carl says:

    A very powerful post Tricia. This all must be very close to your heart with your dear father requiring more and more the assistance of others.
    The value of human life is so immeasurable. Thank you for portraying this so beautifully!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Mike Hohmann says:

    Best of luck with all this, Tricia. Dealing with issues of human life and death can be difficult and messy at times; no doubt about it. And some folks deal with it better than others… for better or worse. I’ve never met you Tricia, but I know you love your dad, and I know you are a very strong lady. The best to you, your mom and your dad!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: On Grief | Freedom Through Empowerment

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