Natasha Richardson is Dead

Like many people, I followed the Natasha Richardson story this week. She is the actress wife of actor Liam Neeson who was fatally injured in a skiing accident in Quebec. While details remain sketchy, it appears she suffered a head injury from a fall during  a ski lesson that initially did not seem serious but progressed rapidly to brain death and she was eventually taken off life support and allowed to die.

I am drawn to stories like this.

I shouldn’t call them stories, should I?

Natasha was a wife, mother, daughter, sister and on and on. A person who the other day was fine in all respects and is now gone. She leaves behind a husband, whose pain I wish I didn’t have first hand knowledge of, and two young sons. She’s not a story, but she is. 

We are all stories in the end.

I didn’t have to give the okay for Will to be removed from life support, but I did have to make the decision to refuse further treatment for his recurrent lung issues caused by his being bedridden and the aspiration issues caused by his increasing inability to swallow. I had to say no to the feed tube. Both things that could have prolonged his existence a few more months, or not. 

So I do know what it is like to have to decide for someone else and have that decision result in death. Even though it is the right thing to do, it doesn’t make it any easier or make you feel as though you did the right thing. Life should be fought for but existence should never be a goal.

My father suffered the last half of his life under the weight of such a decision. His younger brother was declared brain dead after a fall from a barn loft when I was eight years old. My sister, DNOS, and my mother always believed his drinking stemmed from the aftermath. He became the guardian of his father’s youngest sister who was living in a nursing home and of his mother as well. He also had to deal with his two oldest siblings and their coveting of Grandma’s inheritance which was considerable. There was quite a bit of rancor in the family for a number of years. But that is not what pushed Dad into the bottle.

It’s my belief that he struggled with the guilt of having been part of the decision to remove Uncle Jimmy from life support. Having to make the decision, even when it is right, is something that a person never quite finds peace with. I don’t believe Dad really ever did.

I feel for Natasha’s husband. Losing your partner is a terrible blow but having to make the call – makes it worse. I still sometimes feel as though I should have let the doctors’ treat Will one last time, but I know it wouldn’t have changed anything. He had been gone forever already – two and a half years – before he was physically able to die. My decision was the last gift I could give him. His freedom to go on, finally, to what comes next for us all – whatever that may actually be. 

This isn’t my tragedy, but it is a more common one than most of us realize.

12 responses to “Natasha Richardson is Dead

  1. I feel privileged that I could be there with him to the end. and I think it has made it easier to accept that he is really gone though part of me is still in denial about that. the human brain works in very strange ways. At least mine does

  2. I’m grateful I didn’t have to make that decision for Stephen. He did not accept that he would die and fought it every inch of the way. Even hours before he breathed his last he was asking me to keep watching him in case something happened.

    I don’t think he was saying “stay awake so I don’t die alone” but “stay awake so I can be resuscitated if my breathing stops”

    Can I swear on your blog? I just want to say #@&*!#@*^% life is horrible and cruel and I don’t know how we all keep going on.

    I’m sad for Natasha’s family, and sad for myself and sad for everyone who has had to endure the loss of a deeply loved partner

    • No one should ever after watch as a loved one dies, but the alternative is allowing them to die alone and that is not an option, is it?

      Of course, you may swear. I understand perfectly.

  3. I am grateful that my Dad had always made his wishes known, and was able to let us know at the end that he was ready to go.

    Letting Natasha Richardson go when she did probably saved everyone a lot of heartache. I don’t think we know the whole story, nor is it any of our business.

  4. it was 10 days after dad dropped into a semi-comatose state that ‘we’ made the decision to cease life support measures. he died within 6 hours. mom still thinks it was too soon – even though the doctors (with MUCH pressure from me) said that they had done all they could do, and that his condition would not improve, as his organs were failing. i still think we waited 5 days too long… but strangely, i may be the rare case of ‘comfortable’. dad and i had many hours to talk during his last months, and i was the only one who would listen when he wanted to talk about death. i was not confused about his wishes. but, by waiting a few days longer? it certainly helped mom adjust to the decision… and he would have wanted her to be ready, too.

    sounds as though your father faced a much more difficult decision. harder with a young man, than with a 79 year old, who has repeatedly told you that he has no unfinished business, no regrets and is prepared to die…

    • It is different when people are much older and have been very vocal about their wishes. Too few people really have conversations about the horrible “what ifs” though and perhaps that is the real problem.

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