Monday, November 10, 2008

a post-election post

Well, election season is over and I for one am thrilled. No more political ads, phone calls, junk mail...was it just me or was it completely over the top this year? Now as the dust settles, we all have to adjust to new changes...a new administration, new leaders, new taxes, new laws. Some things will be easier than others, we may not even notice them. Others will take more time, more effort. My votes didn't fare all that well, with a few exceptions. Seems most people in this city disagreed with me in large numbers on many things. So now it's time for me to work through that and I will, but that doesn't mean it's going to be easy.
Yesterday morning as the boys ate breakfast, I sat down at the computer with a cup of coffee. I went to our local radio station, KEXP's website to stream a segment of a show that I had missed the night before. Around 8:30pm Saturday night, my friend John, who is dying of terminal lung cancer, was a guest on the local music show Audioasis. He was talking about his project, Loveland, and debuting some of the songs from their record. While he's been working on it for some time, a lot of the work has been done recently, in the borrowed days of John's life. Days that weren't afforded by doctors' prognoses. You may remember my post a few months back, about a call I received from a friend, inviting me to a party in celebration of John's life. At that time, he had been given a month or two to live. But John's still here, making music, loving life, cherishing moments with his wife, his family, his friends. And listening to him on the radio, describing the meanings behind various songs, talking about his experiences, I thought about the election. I thought about how our state just passed a "death with dignity" law that allows someone with 6 months to live the opportunity to end their life. I thought about how many times over the past 5 years that John has fought against this cancer that the outlook was grim, how words like 'months to live' were thrown out there and how John has blown past every one of them. I was nearly in tears as he spoke about his music and how he was going to sell the songs via Myspace to raise money for his wife because after 5 years of chemo, surgery, radiation, medicine, doctor visits...there's nothing left. He spoke of how difficult it was to know that he's leaving his wife with nothing. But that is so far from true. She is left with memories of him, until his final day she gets to love him, to be near him, to hold his hand, to speak with him, to lay quietly and just hear him breathe. And I wonder, would the knowledge that his treatment was going to cost so much money, that he would be leaving his wife with "nothing", would that cause him to consider ending his life prematurely, just to spare her the financial burden? Now that we have this law, would it change how he sees himself? Would it cause him to wonder if it's "worth it" to keep living, knowing that the end is near? I'm horrified at what the passage of this initiative says to the terminally ill. I understand that it offers those in pain hope, I really do. But I also understand the unnecessary pressure that it puts on them to decide when death becomes the better option for those around them. And please know that I am completely conflicted about my position because I do believe in some sort of death with dignity law. After all, I watched my grandmother waste away slowly in a hospital because for some insane reason it was ethically permissible to deny her nutrients and allow her body to shut itself down, but completely out of the question to simply give her a lethal dose of medicine and let her slip away. It took weeks for her body to die, despite the fact that she was unconscious and already gone from us in our hearts. Still, we had to wait and watch and hurt and it was brutal. At that point, yes, I am for a dignified, quick death. But six way. In six months, being terminally ill and sometimes barely able to climb a flight of stairs, John has thrown an amazing party, made an amazing record, gone away to a poker party and cooked for a big group of men (my dad included), touched hundreds of lives just by being John and by living, by refusing to give up. I hope he knows that the passage of this law doesn't mean his life isn't worth it. It doesn't mean he's a burden or that he should give up. Keep living John. You are a blessing to so many and your voice, like your music, should play on.

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