My Grandpa Vince was a lover of life. At age 77, he was a retired teacher who cooked, painted and cycled like a champ. His life changed dramatically during a bike ride up a familiar hill. He ran out of breath. Soon after, tests confirmed grandpa was dying of leukemia.
“‘I feel like people are drilling holes into my bones constantly,” he said between gasps of breath abetted by a tube connected to an oxygen tank. “Nausea, can’t eat. ….Unbelievable pain in hips. Drilling a hole in a tooth. Never stops. …”
On the morning of March 28, 2017, my phone rang. It was grandpa Vince. He was in agony. I rushed to his house. When I got there, the doors were locked. He didn’t answer my phone call. I called the police. The officer arrived minutes later. He broke the door open and found grandpa dead in the bathtub. He died alone from self-inflicted knife wounds.
“Have to make a decision. Too much pain. Hard to write this,” read a note near his body. “I want aid in dying but can’t get it in this state. … I feel so, so bad … I am so sorry. I love you all.”
New Mexico legislators are once again considering a bill that would allow terminally ill, mentally capable adults the option to die peacefully. The Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act, HB 47, would allow terminally ill New Mexicans to make the end-of-life care decisions that are right for them. The bill gives terminally ill adults the ability to request a doctor’s prescription for medication they can decide to take to die peacefully if their suffering becomes intolerable.
Grandpa Vince was such an incredible human being who cared so much for other people. It was so painful to watch his life decline in such a fast and painful matter. At the end of his life, his painful screams were ear-shattering and heart wrenching.
My grandpa always knew what he wanted, even before his illness. He strongly believed people with a terminal condition should have the option to die peacefully. He always said that if doctors gave him a terminal diagnosis, he would want to die at home, not in a hospital bed. He didn’t consider dying in a hospital a peaceful way to leave this earth.
Recently, I got to see death in a different way. My other grandpa, Tom Monks, died surrounded by his family. We held his hands as he died peacefully.
It was beautiful to be able to support him that way, but I couldn’t help think about my Grandpa Vince. He should have spent his final days at home, comforted and loved by our family, watching “Seinfeld,” on his couch, smelling his favorite foods.
I am angry that Grandpa Vince died alone from self-inflicted wounds. To have him die that way shattered my world. Grandpa Vince should have died peacefully, not violently.
I share my Grandpa Vince’s story to urge our New Mexico lawmakers to put themselves in the shoes of someone with a terminal and painful condition. Think what it would be like to want to put an end to your suffering and being told: No.
Honorable N.M. legislators should open their hearts. I urge them to support the Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act so no terminally ill New Mexicans have to die the way my Grandpa Vince did, violently, tragically, by their own hand.