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  • My mother, Doreen Outing, has died at age 75. It's earlier than most of us would like or expect to exit this life, but for her, it's amazing that she was able to have seen three-quarters of a century. She was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when she was in her early 30s, and the disease with yet no known cure slowly crippled her body and eventually her mind. Many people with MS, including another in our own family, the wife of a cousin of mine, have been yanked from this planet at a much younger age.

    I've known that my mom was a strong person for a long time; she went through many difficult things in her life. But I mean strong in a mental sense. Most of her adult life she weighed around 105 to 115 pounds, and she wasn't particularly athletic, or physically strong.

    But what astonished me about her strength was when she went on hospice care in her nursing home -- and with little to no outward appearance of consciousness, refused to die for five and a half weeks. (To put that in perspective, if a normal person lacked food and water as was the case with my mother while in hospice care, death would come in a week, at most.)

    As to how she got there, one-too-many bouts of pneumonia and urinary tract infections common to women with MS -- several of those over recent years nearly killed her -- left our modern arsenal of antibiotics out of bullets. Nothing could stop the last infection, so, per her wishes, she lived her final days with only "comfort care": relieved of pain by ample doses of morphine and methadone, and awful delusions (part of the later stages of her MS) held at bay with Ativan. I would have wished for a quick, painless death for her; but this drug-aided slow death was a far better alternative than a "natural" death of pre-modern times when the pain would have been excruciating.

    Since our society does not (yet) allow a badly suffering person to seek assistance in ending her life -- nor permit her to have specified such assistance when the time and the suffering came in a living will drafted when the mind is capable of making such weighty decisions -- medical professionals and family members must grit their teeth and ignore the many pleas: "I want to die now." (An extra dose of morphine would have ended it quickly and without pain.) Few people are willing to risk prison for performing a "merciful" act. ... Drug what's left of the mind and wait for the body to fail of its own accord. I wonder if a physician of the 1800s, seeing a dying patient in awful pain, would have been so constrained.

    Mom, you surprised me. Your strong mind and apparently very strong heart clung to life longer than even the outer range of what your hospice nurses and doctors predicted, based on their experience tending to thousands of deaths of the terminally ill. Living with MS, especially in its final stages, is not the the faint of heart (as the saying goes also for growing very old, when body functions begin to fail with regularity). As you leave this world, I marvel at the strength, fortitude, and especially the grace with which you lived with MS, and died of its insidious and awful effects.

    Your son, two lovely granddaughters, and daughter-in-law love you and miss you. And we are in awe of your exhibition of strength in life, and death. I'm especially grateful for the example you've shown my daughters about dealing with adversity in life, with acceptance and grace.

    RIP

    Doreen Outing
    born: January 19, 1937 - Northampton, England
    died: December 30, 2012 - Boulder, Colorado, USA
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