My parents fell in love as students in the mid 1950s – that intoxicating rare love that was
to last a lifetime. They married and embarked on their adventure together as an
unbreakable, cohesive unit. My Father was a chemical engineer by profession and then a
decade later, after much careful planning, turned his hobby into his work and built a
successful business which provided for his beloved wife and their four children.
As a scientist Dad found innovation and technology fascinating and was the ‘provider’
and ‘fixer’ for the family. He was creative, self reliant and immensely practical; he knew
his mind, guiding and supporting those around him and always had a plan for the future;
above all he protected his family from the tough times. Mum gave up her career to
care for the children, managed the house and invested time and effort in the local
community. Dad’s business was based at home, so he and Mum spent far more time
together than most couples are able to, where at least one person goes out to work. It
was a luxury to spend so much time together, but it was also their Achilles heel.
Decisions were taken jointly for both the family and the business. They faced the world
The family lived well, had lots of fun and enjoyed life; with everyone blessed with good
health. The children grew, flew the nest, and started building their own lives.
Grandchildren appeared. All was well.
In 2011, Mum was diagnosed with inoperable, incurable cancer and, as a result, Dad’s
world was ripped apart. I can only imagine how devastating it must be to hear that the
person you love most in the world has a terminal illness. The clock had started ticking for
Treatment was started for Mum – making her feel increasingly sick and unwell. All their
hopes were wrapped up in the little pill she was given. Dad devoted all his time to caring
for Mum, driving her to her various appointments and trying to fix the unfixable. At the
same time, Dad started to lose his sight – robbing him of so many things he enjoyed
doing – including the ability to read the newspaper and books (his source of information
on the world and technology). Soon, he was unable to see to send emails (his only
private way of staying in touch with family and friends during Mum’s illness). The
peripheral neuropathy from the type 2 diabetes made his walking more difficult, slow
and unsteady. Gradually his fingers lost their dexterity too. Life was tough. His heart
and his spirit were being broken. He suffered carer’s burn out – this proud, strong man
weeping inconsolably, completely exhausted with the emotional and physical strain.
How must it have felt to have no control; to invest everything into care for the person
you love; and to know that you cannot win?
In September 2012, Mum was admitted to the local hospital for an emergency operation
unrelated to the cancer. She rallied but then became very poorly and was cared for in a
side room on an acute surgical ward. The family gathered, and spent a few precious days
saying goodbye. Dad was adamant; he would be with her when she died so we stayed at
the hospital taking it in turns to keep vigil with Mum.
A few days later, Mum died, slipping away into a grey dawn – with Dad and the family at
her bedside. Dad was desolate. Broken-hearted. Bereft. I didn’t expect him to survive
until Christmas. I think I held my breath for nearly eighteen months. He tried so very
hard to keep going. A few months later he, his older brother and sister discussed
together how they didn’t want to live on forever and would wish to die when they felt
life was no longer worth living. The clock was ticking a little faster…
Dad tried hard to make a new life, trying to learn how to cook simple things, to do the
washing, and to look after himself. His health continued to deteriorate. His failing
eyesight led to him giving up driving – and with it the last vestige of his independence.
The neuropathy meant his walking was now very tottery so he conceded to using a
walking stick but his pride in himself as a person would not allow any other aids. He
found it difficult to get into and out of the bath. His fingers were no longer able to do up
shirt buttons. He struggled with what he called his ‘uncertain’ bowels and the loss of
dignity that brought.
During this time, there were thoughts about moving from the bungalow and then there
was a decision to downsize and move to a flat in a retirement complex near me. The
forthcoming move gave Dad an element of control and a sense of real purpose again –
getting rid of furniture and ‘stuff’ as well as sorting through paperwork. He was
preparing. The clock was ticking…
Dad’s sister became very unwell and he stopped eating – only restarting when she
rallied. The house move was brought forward so that it would happen by the first
anniversary of Mum’s death. Dad moved into the flat. After feeling very isolated in the
bungalow, he enjoyed the company available in the communal areas of the complex but,
at the end of the day, he still had to go back into his flat, close the door and face the
aching loneliness without my Mother. Try as he might, he was desolate without her. We
soldiered on, Christmas and New Year came and went. The days began to draw out.
Dad’s beloved sister visited at the end of March and they enjoyed a special visit together
– it was to be their last meeting. The next day, she fell and broke her hip. We knew
there would be no recovery. From that moment it felt like the clock started doing that
thing that is shown in movies when they cut the wire on a bomb… whirring round,
counting down ever faster…
We were away. I rang Dad more frequently and organised extra visits from friends. We
returned from holiday and visited him on our way back. Dad was low, but chatty and
interested in news from home. He walked us to the front door – he was very unsteady
on his feet. There was nothing different in his farewell or the parting hug – we said we’d
see him the next day as we were all going out for Sunday lunch. Later that evening he
took his life.
The next morning, I rang the flat and there was no answer. My heart slowed as a feeling
of dread wrapped around it. I rang twice more and then drove over on my own. I let
myself into the flat and found his body, cold and stiff. Then there were paramedics;
police, lots of police including SOCO; undertakers; statements; an air of suspicion.
There was a little sweet wrapper, carefully knotted on the bedside cabinet – for me that
was the hardest thing to see. It showed the sense of purpose of a man, whose fingers
could no longer do up shirt buttons, but whose last act was measured and carefully
considered. His letter said that life had become a burden. It broke my heart that Dad
had to be alone when he died and that there were no proper goodbyes. But he was
careful – oh so careful – to make sure that I wouldn’t be implicated. The police started to
treat me as a ‘witness’. A post mortem. More statements and, eventually, we got to the
Coroners Inquest and a line was drawn. I could breathe again.
I feel there is a deep significance in Dad’s ancestry – his mother, my Grandmother, came
from a noble Samurai family and Japan is a country where suicide is considered
honourable. Indeed, when she reached her 90th birthday, she decided she was ‘too old’
and refused to eat or drink, dying quietly thirteen days later, on my Father’s birthday.
Although she was living with my parents, my Father respected her choice and cared for
her as she took that final journey. To me, that shows the deepest love, respect and
honour for her choice.
By choosing to die he took control over a life where the purpose had gone and his
increasing frailty was removing any joy. He recognised that his health was only ever
going to get worse. After my Mother, his sister was the next most important woman in
his life and the threat of facing the loss of his beloved sister after she fell and broke her
hip was the final straw for him. The options for taking his life were limited – although he
was becoming frailer, he was prescribed very few pills; and he no longer had a car. He
also knew he would be found (by me) and tried to make everything about his death as
‘tidy’ as possible. But he had to die alone…
My Father had led a full life, enjoying his family and friends, and contributing to society.
As a man who had run his own business he was used to being in control and making
decisions. His was not depressed, but the aching loneliness following the death of my
Mother and the imminent prospect of facing the loss of his beloved sister; combined with
his own increasing frailty and a loss of any quality of life, left him no choice.
There was no time to go to complete all the documentation to allow him to travel to die
at a Swiss clinic. In this country there was no other option open to him. And he had to
be alone. For a man who had done everything to ensure his wife did not die alone, that
is something that breaks my heart, that we could not share that final journey with him
and that there could be no proper farewell to a remarkable much-loved man. He
protected me but, because there were no goodbyes, the impact of his self chosen death
has affected the wider family more than he would ever have wished.
I completely respect my Father’s choice to end his life and understand the reasons
behind his decision. I strongly believe it was HIS decision to take. I also respect the
immense courage it took to die alone. But how was it fair to him or to his family for
suicide to be his only option? Therefore, I would like his legacy to be a change in the law
so that, with the appropriate safeguards, there is the choice available in this country for a
medically assisted death for those who feel that their life is complete