When the Last Guest Leaves

Dying with dignity is one thing. Helping your mom do it is another.

| January-February 2012

Pulling the trigger, 9 a.m., January 4, 2010

Killed Mom a few hours ago. I haven’t even had my coffee.

Actually, the state of Oregon says I didn’t kill her. The state says that “Death with Dignity” is not euthanasia. Not “assisted suicide.” But the State of Ben says know yer liberties. As individuals, death is nothing if not our own. Call it what you will, there’s one thing I know: She wouldn’t have done it without me.

Now Mom’s the deepest vision of silver-haired sleep, literally chilling on her side next to me in bed, snuggled up like a happy child, my hand on her shoulder, her head, her hair. I call my peeps to tell them it happened, that three months after her diagnosis and the following downhill slide, she rolled over at 3 a.m. last night and woke me with, “I want to do it now.”



And so we did it. She swallowed the stuff and died and my friends say wow and what was it was like.

“Amazing.” I say. “In-fucking-credible. Insane.” And I mean every syllable.

William Simpson
1/14/2012 7:01:14 PM

Hello Ben I just read your article and was blowed away at the courage you and your family have displayed during your mother's last days. Ben I am going through the process of caring for my mother as she is dying from an array of ailments. She is 85 years old and I am the only child ! Oh how I wish I had siblings to help with this process. well I guess your experience and the sharing of your story will be my strength while watching this whole thing unfold , Thanks a lot for sharing your story and I hope to hear from you? I am 46 years old and a college student at the local university I am going to use this story in my social work class!!!!


Nora Miller
1/12/2012 2:24:51 AM

Dear Ben, thank you for a story so real and so beautifully written. I belong to the small club of people who helped a loved one in this particular way. My husband had about eight months between diagnosis and death, but because we lived in Oregon at the time, he was able to spare himself and us those last few weeks of indignity and confusion and emotional chaos. His final moments were much like your mother's--calm, radiant, grateful and loving. I think your story clearly shows the benefit of the simple act of embracing an inevitable death and focusing on the dying rather than fighting it. Your story makes it clear that you loved your mother and miss her keenly, but I have no doubt that being with her and sharing these last moments in just the way that you did has made the grief more bearable, more comprehensible. I have witnessed other deaths, my mother's and my oldest sister's, neither in Oregon, neither peaceful. I can say without no shadow of doubt that death with dignity is a gift beyond measure that every citizen owes to themselves and their loved ones. I can only hope it comes to my state soon enough for me.


Japhet Koteen
1/11/2012 8:06:57 PM

Thanks, Ben, for sharing this amazing experience. Your light touch illuminates the hardest darkest places in a way that makes them less frightening. This piece transcends the political polarization of end-of-life issues, divisive rhetoric about death panels and reminds us of the intensely and vibrantly humans side of life and death. Thank you again.