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I have had the "I want to die" conversation with my father a number of times. A conversation he initiates. A conversation in which he tells me that he just wants to end the degeneration that Parkinson's Disease, Dementia and Diplopia have wrecked on him. Where he laments the loss of independence and mobility. On his quality of life. On the impact it has on me as his primary caregiver.
I don't know what brings this on, but, I have often been confronted by "Sangeeta, I want to die" or "Sangeeta, why am I still living" or some such refrain.
The first few times I heard this, I deflected. It is easier to change the topic than to have a conversation on death. I deflect with "Anna, you are doing fine" or some such rhetorical comment.
From deflection, I moved to trying to find out what brought this on. I can well understand that a person with my father's diseases and limitations gets depressed and that depression leads to thoughts of dying. Of ending it all. So I run thru my mind all the reasons that could have brought on the depression - the medication, or a physical illness, or not speaking with relatives for a long time, or being cooped up at home, or boredom. And then I address what I feel is the key driver of the depression in the best way possible.
From deflection to "what brought this on?", I move to asking Anna, "Why do you want to die?" or "Why are you thinking of death?" When his response to this question is specific, it is easy to address. But when it is not, I have to use logic and a process of elimination to determine the cause, and then address that cause.
Here is how one of the conversations went:
|Distress by Moshfegh Rakhsha|
Me: Anna, how are you?
Anna: I want to die.
Me: Anna, why do you want to die?
Anna: Because I want to.
Me: Anna, death is not in our hands. There is nothing you or I can do to hasten dying.
Anna: Why not?
Me (wondering how to answer): Anna, you die when your heart stops beating. Your heart is strong, so that's not going to happen soon.
Anna: Why can't you get me a gun?
Oh dear! How do I respond to this?
Me (falling back on logic, my safety net): Anna, buying a gun in India is not easy. I wouldn't know how to buy one.
Anna: You can find out anything on the internet. Buy a gun and shoot me.
This conversation is deteriorating by the second.
Me: Anna, I can't shoot you!
Anna (looking and sounding petulant): Why not? I don't want to be a burden on you.
Me: Anna, you are not a burden on me!
Anna: Yes. I am! I can’t do anything for myself. I am useless. Pause. Buy me a gun then.
Oh dear! Oh dear me!
Me (holding on to the logic-lifebelt in a stormy sea!): Anna, even if I bought you a gun, I can't shoot you.
Me (thinking "what the hell?!!"): Because, you are my father. I can't kill you!! I can’t kill anyone, for that matter!
Anna: But I want to die. Get a gun and shoot me.
Me (exasperated): Anna, I can not and will not buy a gun. If I shoot you, I will go to jail for the rest of my life.
This flummoxes him.
Anna: OK. Buy a gun and give it to me. I will shoot myself.
Me: Anna, you are being silly! I pause as I think fast on my feet. Even if I could buy you a gun, you wouldn't be able to pull the trigger with your Parkinson’s.
This stops him in his tracks.
Phew! What a relief.
I then change the topic to walking, or food, or physio, or politics, or something that is safe ground. And coax him to do some activity. And I chatter away like a child about anything but death.
As I leave his house, I feel washed out! The clothes I am wearing have faded. The street and sounds and lights have receded into the background.
I have been thru' an emotional wringer and come out the other end still standing on my feet.