Finished. Done. Final. The words hold a different meaning to me since my mother shot herself to death last summer after being diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor that had already taken over 40 percent of her brain. She was going blind. She couldn’t eat. She could not sleep. She struggled to walk. There was no path forward, no cure, no medicine other than to keep her “comfortable.”
Sadly, I am not alone. This tragedy happens all too often. Human suffering caused by a terminal illness with no path forward should not be the only path. People of sound mind should have the freedom to die on their terms, surrounded by their family and peacefully going to sleep – a dignified death.
Terminally ill New Mexicans should not be forced to resort to violent deaths.
That is why my mission is to change New Mexico’s law by supporting the Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act. This bill would allow mentally capable, terminally ill adults with six months or less to live to have the option to get a doctor’s prescription for medication they can decide to take if their suffering becomes unbearable, so they can die peacefully in their sleep.
It took me a while to come to grips with what happened that morning early last summer. I returned from a business trip the night before and the phone rang a little earlier than I would like. The phone rang again. There was a voicemail. It was my mom; her voicemail was the final words I would ever hear from her, but not the last time I would see her.
Showing up to my childhood home with a street jam-packed with first responders, I made my way into the home. They eventually gave me the news that mom had shot herself. Shocked, I looked up and saw my mom sitting upright as they wheeled her by the sliding glass door. She was alive and breathing.
At the hospital, I watched her breathe and tried to match her shallow breath, slowly in, slowly out, reminding myself not to hold my breath. I tried not to look at her injuries. I wanted to remember her as my beautiful mother. The chaplain said a prayer, and I asked the doctor and nurse to let her go home before looking up and asking the officer to take me back to my parents’ home. I knew my dad would be arriving home from his tennis match and wanted to be the one to tell him. They were married for 50 years and 50 weeks. That was the hardest day of my life.
I tell this story not for sympathy, but in the hopes of inspiring change. Mom asked for help, asked for a dignified death, begged doctors and hospice for a “cocktail” so she could go to “sleep,” but was rejected at every turn. In the end, she was suffering and the path forward was too much for her to handle.
She did not want her grandson and I to see her in such pain. This was a tragic and horrific ending. Hard for the first responders, officers, doctors, nurses and on us. It breaks my heart to think of her alone, scared and pulling the trigger. “Done” was the last word spoken on her voicemail. She died at University Hospital.
I am not done. I will not stop. I will scream from the top of my lungs so no other terminally ill New Mexican resorts to violent death like my mother did.
Tracee Nicholson is a local realtor, lifelong Republican and native Albuquerque resident. She and her father, Russ, are actively working to urge legislators to pass House Bill 90, the Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act.