I find Dr. Kevorkian’s life interesting and the specific ending to his life compelling.  Intriguing.  Mysterious.

I mean, after his staunch support of assisted suicide over the years, I half expected him to go out with a bang – a final thumbing of the nose to the government system he found so overbearing or a final message to the world regarding his well-known topic.  But peacefully in bed listening to his favorite music??  Hmmm… curious.

I’m aware that I am probably even more drawn to his story now because of my personal experience of watching someone die in bed listening to their favorite music.   (For the record, that still seems to me a pretty good way to go! – minus all the suffering that may come beforehand.)  However, I also personally know Geoffrey Fieger and consulted him while my dad was suffering.  And in my dad’s final week, my mother and I left our bedside vigil in order to attend the by-invitation Detroit premiere of the HBO film, “You Don’t Know Jack” – a very interesting dichotomy.

However, I think Dr. Jack’s personal ending purely demonstrates his overall mission – he wasn’t ever trying to avoid life by choosing death.  Rather, he was trying to help dying people avoid suffering and loss of dignity.  People who knew they were going to slowly die from an incurable disease.  People who were already experiencing increased pain and suffering every day.  THAT’s where Dr. Jack gets me every time.  I connect with that concept.  Always have.  Even before my experience with Alzheimer’s.

But, let’s face it, Dr. Kevorkian himself wasn’t suffering in the end – he was simply dying.  He was dying of natural causes and he chose to continue on that route.  I think that’s cool.  I think it’s important for him to have made that choice for himself.  Not the specific choice of choosing a natural death necessarily – but rather that he probably considered all of his options… and then he powerfully chose his exit strategy.  I think there’s dignity in being able to choose how you die.

(NOTE: I clearly understand that he went to jail for actively administering a lethal dosage to someone which made it “active voluntary euthanasia” vs. his previous acts of “physician-assisted suicide” where he provided the dosage to someone else to administer to themselves. Click these links for an explanation of the difference and the variances of the law.)

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(Real-time entry)

Anti-depressants: Day 30.  OMG, the results are A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.  I feel like my old self again!!!  I can’t tell you what a RELIEF that is and how great it feels.  I have been so weighted down for so long that I was really starting to wonder if I was still the same person inside.  I’ve actually been concerned that maybe the sparkly, fun, energetic “me” had left for good.  And, man, I really liked that girl.

However, in the past 3 days I’m suddenly getting out of bed faster, my energy is higher, I once again feel empowered to attack projects, and I desire social interaction.  Basically, I feel re-inspired to get my life under control and I am oh so excited to re-meet myself!!

So here I am at home having revolutionary, life changing results from one lone prescription, this little magical pill…

…And there my dad is in a psychiatric ward with a current combination of SIX drugs coursing through his veins: Depakote for seizures… Lexapro for depession/anxiety… Xanax for anxiety/panic… Desyrel for panic attacks… Zyprexa for psychotic conditions… with a side dose of Ativan for anxiety/depression (as needed by injection – along with a padded cell!)!!!

Seriously?? And somehow the medical and legal communities think that THAT is MORE humane than allowing a patient with a death sentence the legal and morale right to choose their own exit strategy, which may include just ONE pill?  I don’t get this part.  I really don’t.  I don’t get why we think it’s humane to put down our pets when they’re failing and in pain, but yet we don’t allow our fellow humankind that same decency.  Shouldn’t that be everyone’s personal right to choose for themselves?  Wouldn’t it be much more peaceful if a proven-to-be-dying person was to take their last breath in comfort surrounded by their loved ones in a controlled setting?

My dad clearly expressed wanting out before the end.  I believe what stopped him is that he didn’t want to die alone.  A highly social person who thrives on camaraderie and love, I don’t believe he wanted to exit alone after such a beautiful lifetime of family and friends around him.  …And so he stayed longer… which means he eventually lost perspective of time and perspective of his limited window of opportunity for that exit plan… and here we are.  He’s lashing out, harming himself and others.  He’s in pain.  He’s suffering.  He still regularly refers to one-liners about wanting to be dead, wishing he had a gun, wanting it to be over.  But it’s now too late for him to do anything about it, and I think he’s mad.  Mad at the world for not helping him end his misery… and mad at himself for ending up exactly where he never wanted to be, helpless, alone and afraid with no end in sight.

Honestly, as a race, what are we doing to ourselves?

(Real-time Entry)

Events and emotions have swung the entire pendulum over and over again the past few days since putting Dad into a nursing home.

It started out Jan 1 with us feeling horrible and heartbroken as we drove him there and left alone.  Based on much advice we had received from dementia and nursing home professionals, we took Dad to see the “new club” but we never said goodbye when we left, we just kind of slipped out when he was happily preoccupied.  It is this fact that has been burning a hole in my heart ever since.

We left him there around 1:30p and Mom called and spoke to Dad on the phone at 4:30p to see how he was doing.  He was laughing without a concern in the world and didn’t appear to miss us or wonder where we were!  What a RELIEF!  Then, a few hours later we received a phone call at 8p from one of the nursing home directors saying that Frank Firek is the spark this place has been missing for a long time!!  He is so social and funny and kind.  He is socializing with everyone.  We are just really blessed to have him join us!  He is a beautiful spark that is shining throughout the home already.  I think he is going to be just fine.  That phone call allowed us to get to sleep that night and we considered it a true gift from God. 

However, it was another comment the director had made that woke me up crying in the middle of the night and again in the morning.  She recounted for us a conversation that she and Dad had had earlier in the day.  When she asked him if he liked the place and told him that if he did he could stay, he replied, Yeah, I’m gonna live here the rest of my life.  Surprised, she asked him if someone had told him that.  He replied with resignation, No, I just sort of figured it out on my own.  OH GOD!!!!  I feel so HORRIBLE for STRANDING HIM THERE with NO EXPLANATION!  And he STILL figured it out!?!  WHY didn’t we just TELL HIM THE TRUTH so that he didn’t have to feel so ALL ALONE once he realized the cold, hard truth??  How could we DO that to him?!?!  God, he is SO SMART – even now.  That brain is working overtime and he is figuring out some very complex stuff we were told he wouldn’t completely comprehend this far into Alzheimer’s.  He still amazes me.  He is still there.

The next afternoon, Mom and Todd and I went over to the nursing home for our first visit around 4p.  He was dancing to a live singer/guitarist while everyone else in the audience politely sat and listened.  He was doing lovely, peaceful ballet-style movements, moving all about the singer in the open floor space – he even kissed a few ladies in the front row on their hands and the tops of their heads – a total Frank Firek move!  😉  When Dad spotted Todd, he said, Oh HI buddy! and danced his way over to Todd with a smile on his face.  Todd hugged Dad while Dad danced before him and Mom and I waved and said hello to which he nodded, smiled, and peacefully danced back off toward his “stage”.  We all watched in amazement at how well he was assimilating, how peaceful yet happy he appeared, and how he was bringing such life and joy to this place.  PROUD is definitely a word that was in my head and heart as I watched my beloved Daddy-O just being himself.

Moments later, we started getting partial updates from people around the home that last night Dad actually slept through the whole night (yes!!!).  Then, we learned that there had been some trouble prior between the positive phone call we had received and his bedtime.  The books and the professionals and the doctors prepare you for this sort of thing but we just didn’t think Dad was going to experience this side effect of Alzheimer’s.  After all, he is the most kind, loving, patient, non-violent man you’ve ever met!  And he seemed to become more of a pussy cat during his decline these past two years, making the thought of him lashing out absolutely ludicrous.  Well, lash out that night he did!  While sitting quietly at a large dining room table with other residents while winding down for bed, for no apparent reason Frank Firek stood up, lifted his chair to the ceiling screaming, seriously got in a female nurse’s face when she tried to intervene, PUNCHED a male nurse in the face!, and grabbed a second male nurse (the largest man in the room) by the testicles, squeezing and yanking as hard as he could, even ripping the man’s pants!!!  They claim they’ve never seen a resident anywhere behave in such a violent way!  Frank Firek???  You’ve got to be joking!  Todd, Mom and I all thought they were kidding us!  But by the grave looks on their faces you could tell it had been for real. During the altercation, all the residents were evacuated to their rooms and locked down for their own safety!  Dad was eventually led to a couch alone to calm down.  Someone kept briefly checking in with him every now and then and at one point when asked how he was doing he amazingly said, How’s my transition going?  The answer he received was “smooth”.  Dad said, I like smooth.  I thought you were going to kick me out of here.

It’s just amazing how much he is comprehending – WHERE he is, HOW he behaved, the potential CONSEQUENCES of his actions.  When I asked Mom through tears HOW he could of figured it out, did we say or do something in the days leading up to it?… she responded with, Joleen, your dad is a highly intelligent man.  It doesn’t surprise me at all. 

After the singer finished his performance, Dad immediately plopped into a soft wing-back chair and closed his eyes.  Todd knelt next to him, rubbed his arm and started talking softly to him.  To me, my dad seemed confused as to why he was here but so was Todd – almost like it’s supposed to be one world or the other.  I felt like he was over-processing the current experience but, being too tired to figure it out, he just kept closing his eyes.  I don’t know, maybe he was mad at us and was trying to punish us.  Todd thinks that Dad realized where he is, that he missed his chance to take his own life as he had planned, that he is stuck exactly in the middle of where he didn’t want to go, and that he is mad at himself.  That may very well be true.

The next day, on Dad’s second full day at the nursing home, he kept saying comments to my brother Frank during his visit like, I don’t want to be here; why am I here; what did I do wrong; I hate it hear – it’s quiet and there’s nothing to do and I don’t know these people; where are my friends; no one ever visits; I’ve got to find a screwdriver and break out of this place; I’ve got to find a man and hire him to pop my head off! (with a gun motion to the side of his head!).  It is such inexplicable anguish to know that my dad is miserable and that there is nothing any of us can do about it.  If the laws were different, if we could assist him in his final wish of life, we could all be around him holding his hands while he drifted off peacefully to his next stop in the manner he chooses.  I personally don’t see anything wrong with that and I don’t know why there is a law against assisted-suicide.  If we are all God’s children and He gives us free will and He loves us no matter what… then who is this law designed for??  I think everyone should be able to make their own end-of-life decisions and should be able to be surrounded by those they love in their final moments.  I think locking up confused people who will never again benefit society is a truly cruel act and I pray to God that changes will be made on this earth so that other grieving families can experience smoother transitions.

I have vowed to go back to the nursing home and tell my father that he isn’t crazy, to be honest with him finally – like we always have been, to tell him that this is his new house, that it’s okay, that even though he’s scared and can’t remember things that happen or why he’s there, that he just needs to remember ONE thing: that we love him, will always take care of him, will always make sure he’s safe, and that we will visit him every single day and will never leave him alone.  If he can remember that ONE thing, then all he needs to do with the rest is put his trust in God whom Dad has always believed in.  I have to remind Dad that God writes straight with crooked lines and that this problem is not one for us to figure out.  Daddy just has to be encouraged to find peace with his spirituality, to turn off all the noise and the thinking and to just surrender to God.  I think he’ll find the peace he’s so desperately looking for there.