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.