Goodbye & Good Luck!
August 21, 2014 1:58 PM   Subscribe

"Each of us is born uniquely and dies uniquely. I think of dying as a final adventure with a predictably abrupt end. I know when it's time to leave and I do not find it scary." Gillian Bennett, whose last words are captured in her eloquent farewell website, has died. (Trigger warning for suicide.)

The 84-year-old was diagnosed with dementia three years ago. A native of Christchurch, New Zealand, she had a lengthy career as a psychotherapist in several different countries.

She ended her life with "her husband of 60 years by her side." (Last link contains a video interview with her husband.)
posted by jbickers (20 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
I understand.

As sad as it is, I understand.

Mark the part about a Living Will and take it to heart.
posted by Splunge at 2:05 PM on August 21, 2014

Very brave lady, and family.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:10 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Kind of telling that at the end of the CBC article they felt it necessary to include a link to a suicide prevention hotline.

Like of course we should provide support to people who feel hopeless. But the whole point of her story was the exact opposite. She was of sound mind. She made a rational decision about her life. This wasn't the endpoint of someone's depression This was a really hard decision, made harder by the law being eager to prosecute anyone who cared enough to help her.
posted by danny the boy at 2:40 PM on August 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

What a brave, thoughtful, kind woman. How difficult it must be to balance the most human of desires - the simple wish to be alive - with the knowledge that a slow, degrading illness will cause you not to be you anymore: for lack of a better term, a sickness that will slowly erase your soul. What a horrible calculus.

Perhaps a Mefite in British Columbia with some legal knowledge can enlighten me: I thought that physician-assisted suicide was legalized in BC? Or does the law there only apply to people suffering terminal illnesses?
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 2:41 PM on August 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

And like, how lucky that she was able to source the drugs on her own, get the dosage right, and was brave enough to do it without any guarantees.
posted by danny the boy at 2:42 PM on August 21, 2014

I'm not much on life for the sake of living, but...

What person who owns her own milkshake maker, and possesses the ability to enjoy and digest a milkshake, would not want to stick around until she no longer possesses that ability?
posted by serena15221 at 3:13 PM on August 21, 2014

I support the right to decide about one's end. I'm glad she was able to go when and how she chose. But then I read this:
Add a statement such as: "If I am ill and frail and have an infection such as pneumonia, do not attempt to restore me to life with antibiotics. Pray let me pass. I do not give any relatives or doctors or psychiatrists the right to squelch this decision."
What about a person who refuses to make a Will? There should be a fallback Will that applies to everyone who has not done his civic duty. I do not have all the answers, but I do think I'm raising questions that need to be raised.
What is the civic duty she's talking about? Is it giving up on life when one no longer feels a productive member of the society? And how to reconcile it with this:
I began to understand that actually I had to make up my own rules and then live by them.
Sadly, we can't ask her to elucidate.
posted by hat_eater at 3:14 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

If my cat were failing in the way that I am, I would mix some sleeping medication in with top-quality ground beef, and when she fell asleep, carry her lovingly to the garden and do the rest. Who wants to die surrounded by strangers, no matter how excellent their care and competence?

Although I don't believe most people have heard of it, please keep in mind that home pet euthanasia exists in many areas of the United States and Canada. It needs to become much more prevalent.
posted by serena15221 at 3:33 PM on August 21, 2014

What person who owns her own milkshake maker, and possesses the ability to enjoy and digest a milkshake, would not want to stick around until she no longer possesses that ability?

Because you run the risk of also being at being at the point where you no longer possess the ability to take your own life.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 3:55 PM on August 21, 2014 [9 favorites]

What is the civic duty she's talking about?

I think she is referring to making a living will as a Civic Duty.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 4:04 PM on August 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

What is the civic duty she's talking about?

Like tBRKP said, the civic duty is to make a living will. I do not think she is saying that the living will must stipulate a DNR. I think she means that we must make our wishes, whatever they be, be known.
posted by Kerasia at 4:30 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

As someone close to a family member with dementia... I'm not going to read this.
posted by subdee at 5:14 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


Good night, Gillian.
posted by mochapickle at 8:09 PM on August 21, 2014

Amazing. I love the description of that last weekend with her family, arguing about Shakespeare. Sounds like a wonderful family and although I can imagine how painful it must be, she died on her own terms. I admire her deeply.
posted by Athanassiel at 9:13 PM on August 21, 2014

I saw this earlier today and found her site and situation very moving. We do urgently need to get better about how we allow/prohibit these decisions.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:35 PM on August 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I recently watched the rather excellent HBO biopic "You Don't Know Jack", about Dr. Kervorkian and his attempts to move the public conversation about end of life choices while trying to serve people the best he knew how. It is really quite worth watching, both for its content and for Al Pachino's performance, which is so good it shines a light on why we all loved him as an actor decades ago.

Yeah, we do need to get better about how we deal with these issues. We don't deal with them very well, and simple human dignity and respect of individual agency should allow us to examine the issue as more of a personal decision than a moral quandary.
posted by hippybear at 12:43 AM on August 22, 2014

Like of course we should provide support to people who feel hopeless. But the whole point of her story was the exact opposite.

Of course that's the point, or one of the points, of her story. But lots of depressed people tend to make up their own points through the warping prism of their illness. People who aren't in danger of making impulsive suicidal decisions can gloss over the number, and for people who feel horror or fear at what their mind is telling them, there's someone to call. I think it's probably the best of many imperfect balances between reporting honestly and compassionately about this woman's lucid choice and not wanting to trigger a less lucid person into a fatal lapse.
posted by Errant at 9:19 AM on August 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Very well put, Errant.
posted by Cucurbit at 10:49 AM on August 22, 2014

I have been in a situation where the DNR statement was part of what accompanied my treatment, a non-trivial medical procedure that might have killed me. I lived under that shaky prospect for a couple of years. I say this to show that I have given some thought to how the end of my life may come about. The prospect of palliative care is still in my future. As you get older you come to a more detailed understanding of how this works. Dying is inevitable, and although the prospect continues to piss me off, it doesn't scare me.

Anyhow, the mundane but interesting "Living Will" seems to cut through some of the knots faced by the doctors and any family members who become responsible for one's medical care.

I cannot help but respect Gillian's decision. I don't know that I'll manage my transition with the same grace, because my profile won't resemble hers. Anyhow, except for the failure of remission, I'll be going out on terms that I get to select. All in all, this seems okay with me. The transition from life to death is the ultimate experience, literally. The only downside is that you don't get to look back on it and marvel. Notions about reality being only in the now--the past is memory and the future is speculation--are all fine; but beauty is transcendent only up until the present. You can feel the sunset and soak up the changing of the horizon in a way that your memory of the moment cannot reproduce. Our sensations are echoes. They all quit at the end. No looking back.

But I have known people who committed suicide. Their decisions don't resemble what we are discussing here, unless you view them sideways. As best as I can understand, they felt trapped in intolerable situations, and mostly they wanted it to be different. Death seemed better than continuing to endure. I don't know that they made the wrong choice. But the abiding sadness I felt for them resides in the notion that somehow things could have been made better, and living is better than dying. (yeah, give me one more milkshake. And, if you can, one more after that. One more day to think back on some sweet hour of my life.)

My question is this: When is it okay to restrain a person who wants to die? I am ambivalent. I hate it that a friend has taken his own life. I hate the misery this puts the survivors through. But I'm really very glad that I wasn't consulted. I am not the one to decide how much pain, or misery, a person ought to endure. This is my quandary to deal with. Gillian's act was a thing of beauty. It was the perfect example of how things end in a way that makes sense.

It seems wrong, somehow, to die in misery. But if not then, then why not?
posted by mule98J at 1:48 PM on August 22, 2014

I grew up with stories of "senility" on my mother's side of the family. My father's mother died with/from Alzheimer's. Dad has done his research on mindful suicide and has been in communication with the Hemlock Society (and oh dear god do I hope I never have to actively or passively support him as he intentionally dies).

Goodnight, Gillian. Rest peacefully.

And may the rest of us figure out a cure for these brutally personality-destroying illnesses.
posted by Lexica at 9:21 PM on August 23, 2014

« Older A new trend in violence in The Big Easy   |   Welcome to this strange box with chairs in it. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments