The Casual Blog

Tag: Compassion and Choices

Big family news, and helping animals

Our son Gabe got married last week to his sweetheart, and now Clark is our own dear daughter-in-law.  The wedding took place at Atlantic Beach, NC, capping a big week of celebrations.  It was great to see the happy couple plight their troth, but also to get to know Clark’s family and their friends.  

We stayed near the beach, and I had a chance to get out near sunrise to see what was happening there.  I enjoyed watching the shorebirds, and taking some pictures.  In the early light, with the sea running in and out, and the little birds doing the same, it was challenging to get a good image.  

One little peep was unusually friendly, or at least curious, and trotted right up and circled around me, too close to shoot with my long lens.  Back home, I found there were quite a few bad shots, but also a few that showed things I didn’t already know of the world of these small hearty creatures.    

Another little high point of the week:  playing with our granddaughter Augusta.  At 10 weeks, she was still a wee thing, but with big curious eyes.  She seemed to like looking at patterns in fabric and being covered for an instant with her bib.  She had a fabulous smile!

A few weeks earlier, we’d finally faced the fact that we just didn’t like the yellow paint we’d got for the living room last year, and got organized to change it.  The next morning, painter George C. and his assistant showed up with paint, brushes and drop clothes, and put in a color called revere pewter.  It was such a relief!  They made the room a lot calmer and more welcoming.  I checked the edges and corners, and they did a good job.    

As usual at this time of year, I’ve got to think about Christmas presents for people who really don’t need anything of a material sort.  Diane, my mother-in-law, who died this year, decided a few years back that her gift to us would be a contribution to the charity of our choice.  We liked the idea, and tried to implement it in our family, though with only limited success.  

Margaret Renkl had a good column last week encouraging contributions to regional charities that work for environmental causes.  I wasn’t familiar with all of her groups, but they  sounded worthwhile. 

My charitable contributions especially involve animals – reducing animal cruelty and protecting endangered species and ecosystems.  In case you’re interested in those problems, I’ll mention some organizations I’m supporting:  People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Greenpeace, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, World Wildlife Fund, Audubon Society, Ocean Conservancy, National Wildlife Federation, Environmental Defense Fund, and the Jane Goodall Institute.  

In memory of Diane, I’d also like to flag one other charity:  Compassion and Choices.  Its focus is patient rights and individual choice at the end of life, including access to medical aid in dying.  There’s a good documentary called When My Time Comes, available to stream from PBS, showing the issues that this group is helping on.

A last goodbye

Spring arrived in Raleigh this week, with lots of blooming.  There were flowers everywhere, including daffodils, magnolias, cherry blossoms, pear blossoms, and red buds.  Sally’s orchids also held forth, and did some modeling for me, as shown in these images.   

This week Sally’s mom died.  Diane G. Berkeley was my friend as well as my mother-in-law.  We shared a love of music, art, and politics, and, of course, Sally.  Over the course of almost four decades,  we had many good talks.  On occasion, there were disagreements, but not many.     

Diane recently turned 90.  She’d been in physical decline for the last couple of years — increasingly frail, weak, and dizzy.  She couldn’t take care of her two beloved greyhounds anymore, and had to give them away.  She’d lost a lot of her hearing, sight, and taste, and her short term memory was unreliable.  Things she’d always enjoyed, like books, music, and movies, were no longer enjoyable.  After long thought, she decided she’d had enough, and wanted to go. 

Under the law of North Carolina, Diane couldn’t get help in dying from a physician or anyone else.  Her solution was to quit eating and drinking.  As I learned around this time, this is common enough to have a name:  VSED.  She was uncomfortable for a while, particularly with thirst, but ultimately it worked.  She seemed to be resting peacefully at the end.  

Of course I’m sad to lose my old friend.  At the same time, I’m glad that she managed to do as she wanted and end her misery.  But I’m also angry that our system prevented support that would have made her last weeks easier and happier.  It didn’t have to be so hard for her, or for her family.    

As we remember her, maybe we can also reconsider how we think about death, including our typical default position of denying that it exists.  It will eventually come for us all.  As we learn to accept death as it is, we may find more compassion for each other, and work out better ways to help loved ones near the end.  For those interested in learning more about this problem and possibly helping to address it, I’ll recommend the web site of one of my favorite charities, Compassion and Choices.