When my Texas friend Ann texted a couple of weeks ago to say she was coming to Bend, I wasn’t as happy as I might have been.
A visit to hike and enjoy the local ambiance would have been great, but Ann was coming specifically to die. Ann and I are longtime friends, former coworkers and daily combatants in a fierce Words With Friends rivalry. She is brilliant. After an honors degree in kinesiology, she spent years as a reference librarian then, at age 66, returned to school to pursue a master’s degree in applied cognition and neuroscience.
A lifelong scuba diver, she became a videographer of wondrous undersea worlds to share as her art. She raised two good men and has been married to her best friend, Jim, for over forty years. Mostly, Ann is known for her kindness.
Terminal, aggressive pancreatic cancer was never a part Ann’s plans. Having beaten back the disease seven years ago, she learned last August that it had returned at stage IV. Doctors gave her six months to live. She immediately planned a diving trip to Indonesia. She also started thinking about her last days.
Having witnessed her sister’s horrific, protracted death from the same disease two years ago, Ann determined to spare herself and her family that degree of suffering. Her reference skills kicked in. She quickly discovered that only 10 states allow for a legal death with dignity medical option. Of those, only Oregon, as of a ruling last March, has no state residency requirement. She stayed in Dallas as long as she could, but when daily bouts of violent vomiting, pain and nausea hit her diminished body, she knew it was time to act. This was only the beginning. As a fitness devotee, she had a strong heart and organs. Thus, doctors warned she might expect a slower end than most. How ironic. She wanted her sons to see that death could be a peaceful, natural part of the cycle of life.
This is why Ann and Jim showed up at my house a couple of weeks ago. They had done their homework and secured a physician and a local hospice, though they still had more to learn about the complicated, tightly regulated process. The law only allow for those within documented months of death, of sound mind, of their own choice and many other details. Once acclimated, they moved to a local hotel and continued to navigate the process. Ann said that End of Life Choices Oregon was invaluable in providing information and compassion. Finally, all was in place. Ann calmly awaited her sons’ arrival as the day drew near.
At the last minute, Ann was notified she would need to travel to Portland to exercise her non-resident option. This roadblock was news to both her and her doctor. She is his first out-of-state patient and he said she may be the first statewide. Perhaps details are still being ironed out as this is a new policy. After much stress and scrambling, new arrangements were made. Once her sons flew in, the family drove to Portland Friday morning to proceed. Ann passed away peacefully on a Saturday afternoon with her loving family surrounding her.
Ann was passionate about sharing her story as a way to possibly help others facing a similar scenario. She wrote a short essay in her last days about her journey. I encouraged her to share it widely but she didn’t have the energy to do that. The last thing she asked me was to tell her story for her. The closing words of Ann’s essay stick with me, “Perhaps, if we gave death its valued place alongside birth, there would not be such resistance to everyone being entitled to death with dignity. This should not be limited to those with the right zip code.”
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Thanks for sharing this story. And I agree.
Why only Portland?
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