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Passive Suicide

When someone feels they're done in this life, neglecting an illness begins to seem like a viable option.

Photo of fhc gsps
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My father was an unhappy man. He was aware of his unhappiness, but sadly, didn't ever wake up to the fact that he chose to continue to be unhappy. Worse, longevity ran in his family. So for almost his entire 85 years he was an observer of other peoples' successes, happiness, gratification, and love. He didn't understand that life is a team sport. 

He was also a follower, not a leader. Probably stemming from a dysfunctional family, he didn't even know where to look for examples of happy, well-adjusted people. This was just the hand he was dealt, and he played it. So like a lot of kids in his neighborhood, he took up smoking at about 9 years old. 

He smoked for 60 years of his life - got up to two packs a day until he got a scare about 20 years ago. It turned out to be bronchitis they said, but when it returned years later, doctors recommended another x-ray. 

More than a month went by and no word from the doctor's no news was good news for him. But a weird twist of fate proved to be fatal for him. It turned out that his x-ray results were sent to a man in Buffalo, NY with his exact name, including the same middle initial - seriously, what are the odds? No one from the physician's office ever followed up with him. He never followed up either - until my mom insisted that he call to find out the results.

By that time, a tumor had grown aggressively to the size of a softball. Terminal cancer they said, and no mention ever of the missing x-ray and lack of follow up. He went along with the prescribed treatment - beginning with radiation and the tumor appeared to shrink, but quickly grew back with a vengeance. Turns out cancer doesn't like radiation and it pisses it off. 

So at 85, this just reinforced his "lot in life" mentality and he decided to forego any further treatment. Palliative care, jacked up on morphine until he deteriorated to nothing. For months, he couldn't eat or drink - and he seemed to be fine with this. He just wanted to control the pain. So more morphine until one day a fever to beat all fevers kicked in. The beginning of the end, the doctors said. That is one of the final stages before someone passes on. Within two days he was gone. Those last two days were oddly not as stressful as I thought they might be for us, his family. This was his choice - and the choices he made throughout his life brought him to this place. He consciously made decisions to neglect his health, to not live a healthy, active life, to begrudge happy people who were successful.  This was the way he chose to end his life - not fighting. Passing passively.

We got a call at about 4:30 one morning. The nurse on duty suggested that we get to the nursing home because he wasn't going to last. We were there within 10 minutes. When I pulled into the parking lot, I could see the light in his room was lit, and I knew he was gone.

When we got to his room, he was cleaned and ready to be picked up by the mortician's service. They arrived a short time later - within the hour. We were asked if we needed more time alone -  we did not. So, we were asked to leave the room. We were waiting for the elevator, and before we knew it, the mortician wheeled a large, blue, felt-like bag out of his room. He was off to the crematorium with no drama, no theatrics - just another day in the life of a mortician.

As his family, we were relieved that it was over. We accepted that he chose to live his life as a spectator rather than a participant. And he chose to end his life the same way - not going out with a fight - but passively. His passing was our relief as well. He took all of his pain and negativity with him. Life is much lighter now. 

What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

It's natural to be fearful of death, especially when you're young - we fear missing out on what might be, what could have been. But for people who don't understand that life doesn't just happen, that you have to make it happen, passively moving on to the other side is perfectly obvious and natural. It's not Wagnerian opera. It's just what happens.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Mansi Parikh

Thank you for sharing such a deeply personal story. What really stood out for me was your observation that life is not a spectator sport and that we should not live in the fear of death. I wonder if you have come across any other stories or experiences you believe might help people overcome this fear?

Photo of fhc gsps

Thank you, Mansi. I have seen articles on the fear of the unknown. Since we don't have any evidence of what happens after we leave here, I think we're naturally uncomfortable with leaving what and who we're deeply connected to. I think there may also be a fear of missing out - what didn't we get to accomplish or experience? But since we're social beings, that final journey is one we make alone, and that must be emotionally uncomfortable as well. Every generation gets smarter, especially in this age of technology where so much is available to us. Culturally, we might be ready to explore/revisit our understanding of death as a natural part of life. That kind of exploration might even help people live fuller, more meaningful lives - a bit less focused on accumulating stuff and more focused on giving to others and the world. The book, On Death and Dying, is old, but I think the message is still relevant. Looking at the way other cultures, particularly Eastern cultures manage emotions centered on this stage might also be an interesting start. I hope this is helpful.

Photo of Mansi Parikh

I think as humans we worry greatly about planning ahead, our lives revolve around anticipating future needs. It starts at a young age when we are asked "What do you want to be when you grow up?", "Which school/college do you want to go to?", "What are your goals, ambitions, plans?", etc. by planning ahead we feel like we have some control over what will happen but in doing so we often let go of the present. I think what you're suggesting is similar to something another one of our community members @Greta Matos suggests in her post Maybe we should concentrate a little more on the present and that will help us be more open to what comes next. 

I am currently reading the book Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull the co-founder of Pixar animation and a portion of the book talks about how we plan in an attempt to avoid failure "For one thing, it’s easier to plan derivative work—things that copy or repeat something already out there. So if your primary goal is to have a fully worked out, set-in-stone plan, you are only upping your chances of being unoriginal. Moreover, you cannot plan your way out of problems." While he is talking about how the fear of ambiguity hampers creativity and innovation I think it may also apply to our lives. Maybe it will help us deal better with the ambiguity that death represents?

Photo of Michael Fratkin

The mysterious variety of deaths is matched only by the equal variety of lives. 

Photo of Hattie Bryant

Unlike your father, I have been a happy person all of my life.  With the same diagnosis, I will take his same path.  I call this letting nature take its course.

Photo of Aaron Wong

I had a small chat with my mother about death a few weeks ago. Like you, Hattie, she is a happy person. And like you, and fhc gsps 's father, my mom said she'd want to let nature run its course, but most importantly, she wanted her end of life process to not be problematic or dramatic for the rest of us. I see it almost as the last noble thing she could do for us - her last gift to us - similar to Kristin's experience in The Art of Grief 

Photo of OpenIDEO

Hi there. Any chance you could find an image to go along with it? Images help grab attention and tell a story. You should be able to use the Edit Contribution button on the top of your post and follow the instructions to add images from there. Looking forward to seeing more of your inspiring insights on OpenIDEO

Photo of fhc gsps

well, to be honest, any photo of men in concentration camps would be identical to what he looked like for the six months it took for him to pass away. but no, we don't have photos of that.