From President Brian Ruder
Going Out on Top
John Elway, the professional football player, went out on top! He retired after his team won Superbowl XXXIII and he was named MVP. He could have continued to play, likely at a high level. Many Denver fans wanted him to play one more season. But most people thought he was smart to get out before he got hurt or his level of play deteriorated. We will never know what might have happened if he had played another year.
Maude went out on top! She died when she was still able to independently do everything she wanted to do. She had just found a wonderful friend, Harold, who loved her and gave her a reason to live. Maude completed her life on her 80th birthday as she had planned to do for some time. Harold was devastated. Of course, I am talking about Maude of Harold and Maude, the wonderful 70’s movie about relationships, aging, and death. Most of us were sad she chose to die then because she was having so much fun and enjoying her relationship with Harold, but we knew it was Maude’s choice and respected that.
Why shouldn’t the same logic that we apply to John Elway apply to Maude, or any person who decides they want to die while they are still feeling well? Why don’t we feel that they made a rational decision and accept that even though we might not want them to die, or we might not have made the same decision, it is okay for them to die on their own terms? Does it threaten our way of thinking?
We can never know for sure why any person chooses to hasten their death, but our FEN research indicates that people who decide to hasten their death do so because they realize there are no medical solutions available, or they fear being put in a nursing home. In my work as a guide for FEN, I have found that all my clients are fearlessly independent and want control of their life and death. They don’t like having people take care of them. They don’t want to be a “burden.” They don’t want to “waste” money. And many feel they have had a “complete” life and are ready to die. It makes sense to me. It is their life and their decision to die and stop their suffering.
No one wants to die before they have to. But I believe there are many people who have lived a long, full life who might choose to hasten their death if there were an easy legal and socially acceptable way to do so. I think the social pressure of “not giving up” and continuing the good fight to survive are very strong influences on older people, even when they are suffering. Many people don’t know how to talk to their loved ones about their feelings around death. Having this discussion between family and friends may be a wonderful present for everyone. There really is nothing wrong with going out on top!
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