'I'm sorry I didn't kill you, Mum'

Date

Tracey Spicer

Tracey Spicer reflects on the worst ending to a wonderful woman's life.

Tracey Spicer

Tracey Spicer Photo: Natalie Pilato

Dear Mum,

I'm so sorry I didn't kill you.

I came close, believe me.

The pillow was millimetres from your mouth.

But I just couldn't do it.

How could I take life from the one who gave it to me?

My suckler and snuggler, role model and mentor, nurturer and nemesis: yes, you were all of those things.

To your daughters you were an impossible picture of perfection.

Successful career woman, devoted wife, loving mother – a feminist before your time. You laid out your manifesto: "I want you to be independent women. You don't have to have babies. The world is your oyster. Go out there and show them what you're made of! Who says you have to be sugar and spice and all things nice?"

Brave, bold and beautiful, you always called a spade a bloody shovel.

Possessed of a wicked wit, you could cut to the quick.

That humour came in handy the day you were diagnosed.

The oncologist held up an x-ray, dappled with snowflakes (unusual, on a sunny day in March).

"You can see the cancer here, here, here… and here," he said.

"It has spread from the pancreas to the lungs. Any chemotherapy will be palliative."

You turned to Dad with a wry smile: "Might as well go outside for a smoke. No point giving up now!"

I had to laugh.

At a family meeting that night, you were chairman of the board.

Speaking simply yet eloquently, you set KPIs for the coming months.

There was to be no pity, no moping, and no wailing: but there must be mercy.

A conversation we'd had many times around the dinner table suddenly had currency.

"If I lose control of my faculties then put me down," you said, clearly.

"They do it to dogs. Why can't they do it with us, as well?"

We all agreed.

Voluntary euthanasia had never been up for debate in our house: it was a given.

The next six months were the worst – and best – of my life.

We looked at old photos, decorated with '70s flares, floppy sunhats and floral jumpsuits.

(Incidentally, why did you sew matching outfits for Suzie and me? We weren't even twins! I should have taken you to the Hague for those purple and green smocks. They were a crime against humanity.)

You gazed at me lovingly as I stabbed needles into your stomach, managed to keep down a modicum of meals, and patiently painted shadow boxes as precious keepsakes.

We laughed at the bandannas you made us to wear to your chemo sessions, at my dreadful Manuel impressions in the kitchen, and at the stupid things people said when they dropped by.

"Oh, we know it's terminal. But it's a gift, isn't it? All this special time you'll be having together in these next few months," they'd sigh.

Well, if that's a f---ing gift, I want a refund. It's clearly faulty.

One day, it all got too much. We could no longer care for you at home.

We drew up a roster so there was always someone to hold your hand during those bright sunny days and dark desperate nights.

Your screams of pain were blood curdling.

It was a Tuesday, I think, when I pinned the oncologist to the wall.

"Is there nothing else you can do you for my mother's pain?" I pleaded. "Can't you up the morphine to put her out of her misery?"

"If I do that, I'll lose my job. I'm sorry," he answered, kindly.

We asked the nurses. "Please, someone, anyone, end this godforsaken suffering." (Which was a big call for an atheist: I had been forsaken long before this.)

They, too, were kind, patting us on the back saying, "There, there. It won't be much longer now."

It made me wonder – how long is too long?

Is there a mathematical equation for this?

"I've heard three shrieks, five hollers, and one 'Please, kill me now', is that enough, nurse?"

So we decided to do it ourselves.

Suzie stood there all night pressing that bloody red button to flood your body with morphine.

The next day she showed me the bruise on her thumb.

"I know I could go to jail but I don't care," she declared.

But her bravery was for naught.

You kept breathing. And writhing. And screaming.

And so, at 3am, I got up from the recliner chair, lifting the pillow I had wedged behind my back.

I told you I loved you. And I lowered the pillow over your face.

It hovered there for what seemed like an eternity.

But in the end, I couldn't do it.

I was weak. A coward. Not my mother's daughter.

I collapsed on the floor, sobbing.

You must have known: you died hours later.

Finally, you were in peace.

Mum, I hope you forgive me.

Not for the clumsy way I've written this letter (you were always a masterful wordsmith) but for not having the courage to help you when you needed it most.

If it's any comfort, Dad, Suzie and I are campaigning for voluntary euthanasia.

This was my wake-up call.

Let your suffering – and that of so many others – be a lesson to those short-sighted, selfish, puerile politicians who refuse to show compassion to their fellow man. And woman.

How many of them have seen someone they love die in agony, and live with feelings of grief, regret, and helplessness?

Like I do.

Love you Mum.

Your daughter,

Tracey

xxx

Tracey Spicer is an Ambassador for Dying with Dignity. She originally read this letter at a Women of Letters event.

299 comments

  • My heart goes out to you Tracey.

    I had an arrangement to help a friend end things before the pain got to bad from the arachnoiditis he suffered from but, his heart gave out before my assistance was needed. So, I was spared from having to face what you had.

    If I ever find myself facing the fate your mother did, I fully intend to end things myself. Just so none of my loved one's are put in the position you were. You weren't weak, it's just not in you to end the life of another, no matter how dire their situation may be. The courage you've shown just by writing this is unfathomable, and I for one fully support you & everything Dying with Dignity stands for.

    Commenter
    Luke
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    June 12, 2013, 12:55AM
    • Beautiful response.

      Commenter
      Ems
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      June 12, 2013, 10:11AM
    • I was 'deputised' to do the same thing for another friend. We made sure that I was purposely excluded from her will so there could be no comeback that I 'benefited' from her death - a real problem for close family members. We acquired what was needed but in the end it was not required.

      What I don't understand here is that neither the doctor nor palliative nurse restricted our supply to morphine - arranging for and leaving multiple bottles. As they indicated to us provided the drugs were supplied to alleviate pain (which it was) there was no problem, and that if the analgesic action overcame life that was an inevitable part of the treatment of the disease and its symptoms.

      Of course, all of this can only happen at home - once the peson you are caring for gets placed into the hospital system, all bets are off.

      Commenter
      LGM
      Location
      ST PETERS
      Date and time
      June 12, 2013, 11:09AM
  • Spot on, Tracey.
    Your mum would be proud - so well written that it seems silly to think about the issue in any other way.
    You've wedged yourself with guilt. Guilty for not ending it for her. But if you had would you be feeling any better? The doctor's need to have the authority to help ease suffering - for everyone!

    Commenter
    Nel
    Location
    Thank you
    Date and time
    June 12, 2013, 1:09AM
    • Why do we expect doctors to kill people when we can't bring ourselves to do it? What about the doctors' feelings about killing? I feel terribly sorry about Tracey's experience, but perhaps her mother shouldn't have left it to others? Lots of people commit suicide, so that way was open to her before it all became too much. Be careful what you wish for.

      Commenter
      trinch
      Date and time
      June 12, 2013, 1:33PM
  • How incredibly courageous and brave of Tracey to share this. I firmly believe that we should have the right to say when enough is enough. To be in what appears to be such never ending pain is never dignified or humane. I know that these goes against the grain of the beliefs of many religions but those very religions also practise and promote compassion and care for human life so why not allow people the choice to say when to go? I know that is the same were to happen to me I would be so grateful to bring the pain and suffering to an end. I only hope that the law makers would understand this. And thank you again Tracey for bringing this to light.

    Commenter
    PAL
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    June 12, 2013, 1:22AM
    • My fear is along the slippery slope concern and no more was it highlighted with the euthanasing of the twin brothers going blind, with no experience of pain.

      Sorry, but I would like more unemotional discussion on the ramifications from people advocating euthanasia. Don't shoot me down for wanting objective talk - I am from an old, very large family with 3 generations spanning more than a century - have seen plenty of similar times - more than most I imagine. I have also been an assistant nurse in a nursing home for almost 10 years.

      Throughout the comments, there is a lot of emotional bagging of politicians, religion and in general of those who don't share the same view - this does not help debate.

      Commenter
      Dom Perignon
      Location
      Dan Murphy's
      Date and time
      June 12, 2013, 2:28PM
  • I have never in my entire 46 years EVER written in response to any article - I've never even phoned a radio station for all those give-aways! But Tracey I was so moved and touched by your bravery and the way you recalled the last moments of your Mum's life. She sounds like an amazing woman who has given you the strength to fight this cause. Life is not black & white and it is so easy for people to judge when it hasn't happened to them - thank you for your honesty. If nothing else you have moved one person to action - well done.

    Commenter
    Jmaree
    Date and time
    June 12, 2013, 1:25AM
    • Truly heartbreaking.

      Commenter
      springwoodman
      Date and time
      June 12, 2013, 11:18AM
    • It has been a very long time since I cried. This is one of the most moving things I have ever read. Well done for writing with such honesty. Your mum reminds me of mine.

      Commenter
      JamesinCairns
      Date and time
      June 12, 2013, 12:14PM

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