I took care of my dad during his last months living with terminal lung cancer. In 2020, he accessed Washington State’s medical aid-in-dying law and peacefully passed away.
My dad, lovingly known as Coach, was a caring person and everybody he ever interacted with loved. Whenever he went in for treatments, his goal was to make the nurses and doctors laugh. He coached softball teams all throughout his adulthood, loved cats and gardening. In fact, when I moved to Virginia, he used to mail me tomatoes–some survived and sometimes it was a disaster. Because we both enjoyed tomatoes so much, he found joy in sharing them with me.
In 2018, dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. He went through chemo and radiation, then went into remission for a short while. But in September of 2019, he caught pneumonia and found out during his hospital stay that the cancer was still present. After multiple visits to the hospital and the rehab facility, dad grew more and more tired and so did his body. It wasn’t long before I received a call from my dad’s doctor telling me it was time for me to come to Washington.
His doctor told me and dad that we needed to decide whether he wanted to stay in the hospital, be transferred to a nursing home, or if he wanted to die at home with his family and his cat close to him while on hospice. Dad had spent time in and out of nursing homes throughout 2019, and asked to never be placed in one again. At the end of fall, I temporarily moved from Virginia to Washington to serve as my father’s primary caregiver so that he wouldn’t have to die alone in a facility.
Dad enrolled in hospice at the beginning of December. However, even with their support, dad’s pain became increasingly hard to manage. He was bedridden, very uncomfortable and in constant pain. It was not the way he wanted to spend the rest of his days.
At some point, he said: “I want to think about the option of medical aid in dying.” He wanted me to reach out to his doctor. A week later he asked if I had followed up on it. I hadn’t. I wanted to sit on it to make sure it was really something he wanted to pursue–it was. He was tired and was at peace with dying.
I helped him obtain the information he needed to access Washington’s Death with Dignity Act. His doctors were supportive and in early March he received his prescription.
On March 20, 2020, family and three of dad’s closest friends gathered to be with him during his final hours. Everyone joined around noon and of course dad’s cat Jake was also present. Dad shared stories, told everyone how much he loved them and we all got to say goodbye. At 4pm, dad took his aid-in-dying prescription and he fell asleep within minutes of consuming it. He passed away peacefully later that night around 8pm.
After he died, I returned to Virginia. I wanted to find a way to honor him and his choice. Upon my return, I had no idea that medical aid in dying was not legal in Virginia. I decided the best way to honor my dad was to advocate for this compassionate option. Terminally ill Virginians should have the opportunity to live how they want and die how they want.