Archive | December, 2012

Last Supper

20 Dec

(NOTE – I wrote the following piece the morning after the event. That was a couple of months ago. I shared it by email with a few friends. It struck me that it belonged here.)

I had a strange experience this week. On Wednesday night I had dinner seated next to a man who of his own choice planned not to be alive twenty four hours later. It was in the full sense of the phrase – a last supper.
Let me back up a little. In our neighbourhood here in Portland there is an Italian restaurant where it is customary for various regulars to dine together at the big table by the front window. The cast comes from a revolving pool of local characters. There is no booking. It’s first come, first to get a seat. A few come every week. Some like us turn up every couple of weeks. Others drop in every month or so. The table holds ten. But we are flexible and the owner easy going. So we jam in together as necessary. I believe the record seating is seventeen.
A couple of months ago one of our number (I’ll call him Tim since I don’t know that I have the right to name him) learned from his doctors that he had esophagal cancer which had reached his liver. Under the most intense program of treatment, a total battery of radio and chemo, they told him he might last a year.
Tim went home to think about it. He let it be known what had happened. He turned up as usual for dinner on Wednesdays. And he made his decision. Oregon has a euthanasia/right to die law on its books. If you are terminally ill, you can request what is termed ‘death with dignity’. Two separate doctors have to be consulted. And you have to ask for this exit card from life two times – a week apart.
Tim had no real family that he cared about. He settled his affairs. He left his property to a neighbouring woman who had always been close to him. She took his cat as well. Word was passed around that Wednesday would be Tim’s last night. I did not know until we got to the restaurant. This could easily have been a week we skipped. As it happened, when Tim came in, there was an empty chair next to me and he took it. Nothing was off limits. He answered every question put to him. He laughed, he responded to jokes. He did not posture. He was looking at it straight on. He behaved with serious class. He talked the details of the procedure for those that wanted to know. He hugged everybody as they left. We were among the early departures, we did not wish to linger.
Now it is an interesting fact that while a considerable number of people have applied for and been granted permission for the procedure, most people want to know they have the out in hand but do not play the card. Since I have not heard otherwise, I assume he slipped away about 3 p.m. yesterday afternoon on his living room couch as he told me he planned to do.
I held my father’s hand as he died. That was an intense and complicated scene. But it seemed of a different order of things than what passed with Tim. I think it must be the fact of the arbitrary time limit. You have ten hours. Now you have three. And now only minutes. The decision when – in your hands.

Postscript: A mutual friend was with Tim when he died. A couple of details that she described stay with me. One – in the morning Tim had walked to the pharmacy himself and got his lethal prescription filled.Two – Tim was an out there flamer. And when the undertakers came, they asked if they should remove Tim’s gold earring studs. Then they came on a further issue. Tim’s nipple rings. Here they were unsuccessful. So rather than mutilate the flesh, they let them remain to be cremated.