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Luskin: Survivors Gift

Deborah Luskin
I held Dad’s hand while the IV bag ran out - and for eleven more days, until he passed.";

On his ninety-second birthday just over a year ago, Dad announced, “This is my last birthday. No more.”

But aside from failing eyesight, hearing and cognition, he was remarkably healthy.

Then he said, “I have nothing more to live for.” His youngest son planned to marry in June, so I asked, “What about the wedding?”

“Okay,’ he replied, “I’ll make it to that.”

When my mother died a few years ago, Dad relocated to assisted living near me. Initially, he walked the half-mile to town, paid his own bills and used the computer. We swam twice a week; then once a week. In time, we stopped swimming. He took shorter walks. And forgot how to send emails. I paid his bills.

He attended my brother’s wedding, and had a stroke ten days later. At first it looked like he’d bounce back, but complications kept him in the hospital and his conditioned worsened. We followed his advance directive.

Knowing Dad was tired of living with his growing impairments made it easy at first. When his doctor suggested an MRI, my oldest brother, my husband (who’s a physician), and I all replied in unison, “Why?” Given that he wanted no treatment, it seemed cruel to subject him to the discomfort of the test just to see how much brain damage he’d suffered.

Then he stopped eating, and talking. His condition worsened and we moved him to hospice, where it also didn’t make sense to continue with intravenous hydration. I said I’d give the order. But it was harder than I’d imagined.

I told the nurse it was time to stop the IV. “We just started a new bag,” she said.

“Okay,” I said. “Then let it run out.”

“It will go for another six to eight hours,” she said.

As a lay-person, I didn’t know what to do except cry. I didn’t want to prolong Dad’s suffering, but I didn’t want to hasten his death, either. I choked on the words, “Let it run out” and held his hand for the next eleven days – until just before his ninety-third birthday, when he expired.

I’d written my own Advance Directive, led an obituary-writing workshop, and facilitated end-of-life discussions with medical professionals, so I thought I was well prepared for my dad’s death. Turns out I wasn’t entirely ready after all.

But he was.

Deborah Lee Luskin is a writer, speaker and educator.
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