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  • Mom’s VSED Journey
  • Laurie Ann

Dear Reader, remember a person’s life is filled with moments and events that make them who they are and cause them to make the choices they make. Remember that journal narratives are constrained by length, and much of the vibrancy and quirks of a person’s life by necessity remain hidden from view.

Mom had contributed for years to the Hemlock Society and then Compassion & Choices; we had discussed her feelings about end–of–life; I just never expected life to present the circumstance that would cause her to act on her beliefs. She had always been adamant that a nursing home would not be part of her life. I thank my nurse sister–in–law for her words of wisdom: All too often the elderly do not have their voices listened to when making decisions about their lives. Family and doctors want to do what they each think is best, when they should be asking for and listening to the elderly person’s own wishes.

Thus I contacted Compassion & Choices (C & C), although silently wondering about Mom’s comment that “if I stay another day [at rehab] it will kill me.” In the back of my mind I wondered if I was being manipulated simply to get Mom out of rehab as soon as possible.

Compassion & Choices

“Choices” means a person may choose to end their life by denying themselves food and water. It also means they may change their mind and decide not to end their life. While at rehab Mom and I discussed this process, with me asking her to say in her own words what it was that she wanted to do. I needed to hear it, needed to know she knew what she wanted, and wanted her to be sure of what she was asking. We also talked about her right to change her mind once she began the process. To my frustration, she kept stating it would be over in four days, and she didn’t want to hear otherwise, yet the literature states that the process can take between one and three weeks, on average.


Prior to leaving rehab I spoke with Dr. L., Mom’s gerontologist. Dr. L. had known Mom for many years and was not surprised by her decision. She asked for reassurance this was legal and that I would protect Mom, Dr. L. and myself by having Mom explain and affirm her decision in some format that could be produced for others to see. I had been bringing my laptop to rehab so we could watch movies, thus it was easy enough to use iMovie to record Mom stating what she wanted to do and why.

In a sense, Mom had already begun VSED. She was barely eating anything at rehab, infuriating the support staff, but she was drinking water, although far less than was prescribed.


Our wonderful aide, who I will call Grace, nestled Mom into the hospital bed located in her living [End Page e1] room. Distilled sunlight greeted her from southern and eastern widows, her baby grand piano, an instrument she played with passion and mastery, facing her. Indeed, she had a Master’s of Music Composition, earned when she was in her early forties. Accompanying her on top of her blankets were always a photograph of General Stanley McChrystal (she was a big fan), a stuffed animal given to her by a close friend, and a small silver bell that years ago she had given me and now wanted back so she could summon us if her voice became too weak to call. While we would often be at Mom’s bedside, we would eat our meals in the kitchen, out of sight and out of smell.

Curiously, while a phenomenal piano player of mostly classical but also Broadway tunes, and a lover of music, listening to classical and operatic CDs on her Bose, she wanted this journey to be in a quiet place, no music—just gentle calm.

Family members had been alerted to Mom’s situation, along with friends (some of whom knew only about her stroke and others who also knew of her...


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