Permission to die

Today I’m writing about something very personal, and I’m aware that you may think that what I’ve done is foolish, or whimsical, or in very poor taste. But it makes a lot of sense to me, and is part of my policy of being as kind to me as I can possibly be, for now and for the future. I thought about it for a long time before I put pen to paper, and I thought again before posting about it here.

Over the last few months I’ve heard a lot of stories about people dying: not all from cancer, but a fair few. And a recurring theme has been how, as the end nears, so many people ‘hang on’, exhausted children at their bedsides, in pain and barely there, but there all the same.
It seems to me that these deaths, long, drawn out, conducted in places that are often not home, must be torture for everyone. Sad, wearing, tinted with resentment, and capable of replacing – temporarily at least – all of the happy memories we have of someone as they fade away.
Of course, unless we take the Ticket To Switzerland option, there’s probably not a lot we can do about our own deaths. Probably not.
But in case there is, yesterday I wrote myself a letter. Here it is, with the transcript below.

‘Dear Stephanie,
I’m writing to you on a bright, sunny day. I am well and happy, so this may be a strange time to be thinking about dying.
I hope I will die suddenly. I hope I will be old, and content, and able to look back on a life that has been worth the living.
But I know that death might not be like that. If it’s cancer, it might be drawn-out and painful – but there are plenty of other drawn-out, painful options.
So I am writing this letter to let me know that, when the time comes, it’s OK to die: to close my eyes and drift, knowing that life will go on without me, and that’s fine.
Stephanie, this is your permission to die, to use when you need it, and not before.
Go well.

This is not a suicide note. It’s not an instruction to switch me off if machines are keeping me alive – Alan and I have enduring powers of attorney for each other cover that. It’s in case of the scenario when I’m not going to get better, but I am hanging on to life even though life is over. (A human-equivalent-of-the-last-three-seasons-of-LOST scenario, without the polar bears.)
I’ve given this letter to Alan, in an envelope marked ‘Stephanie – permission to die’. So that if I am ever ill and fading, while nurses whisper behind their hands that I was expected to be gone by Easter, and here we are at August Bank Holiday, someone who loves me can give me back this letter, and hold my hand while I read it. It might help me along, and it might make the inevitable less painful for all of us.

6 Responses

  1. Anne Booth says:

    I think that is beautiful.

  2. Louise Kelly says:

    Your courage is apparent as always, and, ironically, it is your zest for life that seems to make this kind of act so possible. (If I was my son, I’d hold a clenched fist up to you and say “Respect”!) Here’s hoping it won’t ever be needed.

  3. carol surtees says:

    I think it really helps to think about this sometimes taboo subject and i have done something similar, i also have cancer but i am divorced so have written a letter to my grown up children , it put my mind at ease.

  4. Leigh says:

    Wow! I think this is so brave, wise and wonderful. However and whenever you choose to exit will be perfect for you – I just know it xx

  5. D.J.Kirkby says:

    During my run yesterday I was thinking of doing something similar to this. I think it is an important thing for us all to do even if we are currently well.

    Leave a Reply