September 24, 2009
Three years ago today, my father passed.
He suffered from ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He was wheelchair-bound and could no longer bathe or feed himself, no longer stand for more than a few minutes. There was no guarantee of how long he would live, how much further he might deteriorate, or whether he might go into spontaneous remission.
He weighed the odds, considered the entire situation, and chose to access assisted suicide through the Swiss organization Dignitas. He did not make this decision lightly, nor was he pressured to do so at any point by family or friends. He and my mother kept most of the decision-making process to themselves, turning to myself and my sister only when they knew that they were both in favor of the proposition.
We both agreed that if this was, in fact, what he wanted; that we would support him in every way possible.
I didn’t see him alive again in person. I’d been up a few months earlier, when I’m sure they were already discussing their options. They may have tried to tell me then. I don’t think I was listening very well, preferring to cling to the comfortable illusion that remission occurs, that people do get better.
We saw Hadrian’s Wall together, and gave a curse to the English for our ancestors’ pride. We ate curry and drank beer, walked through downtown Harrogate and talked a good long time. I didn’t expect him to die when I left Scotland that day.
We talked every day after the decision was made, using Skype’s video chat feature, for which I give many, many thanks. Much of what we said was common – what was happening in our lives, good jokes we’d heard, the sad state of politics. There was a great deal of love expressed on all sides, assuring each other that there was nothing more to say other than the love we shared.
The date was set in early September, in the season of things passing. The documentary crew of The Suicide Tourist made contact and arranged, with not only his consent but his eagerness to tell a story that could one day allow others to make the same decision he now made in a more easily accessible manner. We continued to talk throughout, until the day before he traveled to Switzerland, and to his inevitable end.
I remember waking up early and calling the office, telling them that he was unwell and unlikely to recover. After that it was a short period of waiting for the phone call from my mother – that he was gone, and that it was peaceful, and that she had not been arrested, and that things were as well as they were likely to be for a while.
I lay down and cried a while in my wife’s arms, and then – because eventually, you must – rose and went to breakfast. Life goes on all around us, and has done so for the past three years.
Have things changed in those three years? Not overmuch. I understand more of his advice and his lectures now, whether that’s because I’ve seen more life or worked to remove some of the beams from my eyes. I miss him fiercely, maybe moreso than I did in those first few numb days. I see him and hear from him now and again, in dreams; or in random strings of songs on the iPod which comfort me in thinking he’s saying hello.
I remain grateful to Dignitas and the Swiss government for supporting the individual’s right to live and to die, to John Zaritsky and Point Grey Pictures for their kind and dignified treatment of my family, and to my mother, who is more than a rock, but the entire world in terms of her emotional strength and sense of character.
I love my father, Craig Colby Ewert. And I’m glad he’s not in pain any longer.