It was not my way to make a decision over her head. On the Friday when the doctor called, he offered to move her to the wonderful local cottage hospital, but she said she wanted to stay at home. I was quite anxious about that, wondering if I could cope. However, when we talked about giving her morphine, he talked to me alone. And, knowing her discomfort the previous night and being well aware that it would increase and that she needed relief, I agreed to it.
She wasn’t in a fit state to discuss the matter and I thought that, once she was out of pain and tranquil, I’d talk it through with her the next day. But she died in the night. I didn’t give her the choice but went over her head, for the only time in my life.
As I said yesterday, it was the right thing to do at that time, but it also killed her because it was will, not strength keeping her alive. So I’ve always felt responsible for her death. Not guilty, I took the advice of the doctor for the right reason and she would have suffered otherwise, and I’d have regretted not doing it.
I remembered Huckleberry, the loveliest dog I’ve ever known (I loved Chester more than any other, but Huck was pure sweetness) and his great discomfort the last day of his life, while I was waiting for the vet to come. I was about 17 and alone with him for some reason and he couldn’t settle. I helped him into the garden, I carried him (he was retriever sized, though thin by then) 200 yards down the garden to Oulton Broad, where he loved, but it didn’t calm him, so I carried him back, and I knew we had left it one day too many because we loved him so much we couldn’t bear to lose him. I didn’t want to leave my mother one day more before giving her relief from that great discomfort, my sister wasn’t there so it was my decision. Huck was the first dog I held as he was killed by the vet. There have been a number of others since, it was always done for the right reason at the right time and I don’t feel guilt or responsibility for their death. But dogs aren’t people.
If any of you has ever had to agree to turn off life support, or has said yes to the Liverpool Pathway, or has done anything else out of love to shorten someone’s life, I feel for you. I won’t say I know how you feel because each of us has our own reaction and can’t presume on anyone else’s. I don’t feel guilty and don’t need reassurance – my mother would have died within days and she died in no pain, in a way any of us might choose – but I will always carry the feeling of responsibility. It isn’t comfortable.