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A Conversation About the End of Life

Posted on 04/25/2013

Scope: My sister, Cathleen, recently passed away. She had been in a coma for nearly a year from an accidental fall while visiting her daughter in New York. She lay on a sidewalk after apparently tumbling down the stairs and bled out for nearly 20 minutes until an ambulance arrived. She never regained consciousness.

Many, many times over the past year I wondered what she would have wanted if she had known of her cruel predicament. It was hard to imagine that a woman whose credo was ‘live, live, live’ would have wanted to waste away in a nursing home unconscious with little chance of recovery. Yet she was a fighter. Would she have wanted to grasp for every final bit of air before she breathed her last? Or at some point would she have wanted to just die peacefully?

I never had a conversation with my sister about end-of-life matters. Thankfully I also never had to make any fateful decisions since I wasn’t her legal guardian. Her husband and two daughters were ultimate authorities. But the question still gnaws at me even today, several weeks after her death. What would she have wanted? And in that time, I’ve thought a lot about what I would want if I were in that situation.

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