When euthanasia becomes real

It is the 13th of May, Wednesday afternoon. My mother lies dead on the bed of hospital care home where is she has stayed for the last 4 months. The atmosphere feels surreal. I tell it to my brother, who is the only other person in the room. We are only ones here. The doctors and nurses have left. It’s a gap in the whole process of what has happened today. We start to discuss what should be done next and suddenly my brother recalls that we should notify the funeral company. They are standing by waiting for our call, but the gravity of the moment made us forget. Once called they come quickly and take care of transporting the body. When they are ready, we take the personal belongings of our mother and bring them to the car. We don’t intend to come back. In corona times the visits should be minimal and there is nothing that binds us here. I give my brother a hand with a glove on. Corona times, even a handshake can be dangerous. I take the bike I rented and go to the hotel.

Yesterday, I took a flight from Finland to the Netherlands. Corona times. I had been doing distant work for 2 months now. Doing shopping in the supermarket once every 2 weeks. It felt strange to be 24/7 at home, but in a way I enjoyed it. Not my mother. In February she had entered the care hospital with a request for euthanasia. She had a stroke in her brain the month before and her general condition was such that she was sure not to recover from it. I was doubting at the time. Should I come over? It did not seem so urgent yet. One month later the decision was made for me. The whole world being in lockdown made it practically impossible to travel. At the same time the visits to care homes for the elderly were stopped or severely limited. Even if I could travel would I be able to see my mother? Other people were certainly not allowed. Many people tried but were refused. For my mother it was terrible. She felt lonely and abandoned. There was nothing she could do to entertain her (she lost most of her eyesight) and no one to talk to, except over the phone. Her talk became confusing, she mixed things. Sometimes she was aware of that herself and became sad and desperate. Being a teacher all your life, being always able to express yourself, she could not cope with the disability.

In every conversation I had with her the last couple of months she said she wanted to die. As soon as possible. But how soon is soon? Foreigners tend to think that euthanasia in the Netherlands happens just like that, but that is not the case. Doctors still have to follow due process. Her general practitioner (GP) wants to help her, but he does not want to hurry the process. It is understandable. If you don’t follow the rules you can be accused of murder. I try to explain that to my mother. I try to make a joke out of it, telling her that also in the Netherlands they just don’t let you die like that, but the joke is lost on her. You can laugh she says, but I just want to die.

Back on the morning of her death. The weather is changeable. The sun and the clouds cannot decide. Will this be good or a bad day to die? Just before I enter the care hospital, I put a mask and gloves on. Good decision. It makes it easier to let me in. A nurse takes my temperature through my ear. I don’t have fever or cough. I am happy that they let me in. As I am guided to the floor where my mother stays we keep doing precautions. Mask on, 1.5m distance. Even in the elevator. When I reach my mother’s room the need for precaution is less. There is no corona here and I did not bring any. I can even hug my mother. A last time.  We talk and talk. The morning is a pleasant one. Just like any other I had with her. It is in a way nothing special. After a while two nurses of the ambulance come to prepare the places where my mother needs to be injected (a doctor said later that if you have put a needle into someone these ambulance guys are the best, they do it all the time). They tell her to keep her arm steady otherwise the process might be messed up. That makes my mother anxious. This is her moment. She does not want it messed up.

Around noon, my brother comes. It is a last moment we have together. Half an hour later her GP comes. In tow is another doctor who is still learning. Later in her carrier there will come a point she has to do this herself. Also the head of the ward is attending. A nice man, easy to talk to.

For the euthanasia to take place my mother has to leave her chair and lie on the bed. Anxiety strikes again. If she moves her arm she might mess up the preparations. Can’t she stay in the chair? No, it’s better done lying down. A couple of nurses come to help her in the bed. It is a bit crowded now in the room. Hopefully corona does not strike now.

The GP asks her one more time. Is this what she really wants? My mother says yes. Her only regret is that it took this long to get here. My mother’s GP reads her a poem. A German poem about love. It is beautiful and his gift to her. Then he starts the procedure. She is doing fine, she can sleep. Still doing fine, it’s ok to sleep. The procedure does not take long. Less than 15 minutes. The GP pronounces her dead. This has not been easy for him. After all he knows my mother also for a couple of decades. You develop a personal relationship over such a long time. A coroner, who is on standby, is called. He determines the cause of death and writes the death certificate. People leave the room. My brother and I stay.

Next two days I spend going through my mother’s things. What needs to be shipped to Finland is mostly memories. I prepare one pallet. Full of memories. Saturday, 16th of May is the funeral. It is small, about 20 people. Corona times. Other people can watch it on youtube. It is good to see my family, even though hugs and handshakes are out of the question. My mother is dead. One death in the family is enough for now. As eldest son I should make the first speech. I kept it short, but even so I have difficulty to through the pages. With every word I speak I start to shake more until I can’t control it anymore. The tears I had pushed away have finally come. The process of mourning is no different whether it is a chosen death or any other. The sense of loss is always there.

Do I have peace with my mother’s death? Yes, of course. She asked for euthanasia before inability could prevent her. She made my brother and I sign a paper that we would respect her wish. She has always been clear on that point. Someone I talked to said she was a courageous woman for making such a decision. Maybe so, it takes some courage I suppose.

I signed a euthanasia statement. I am Dutch, but I don’t live in the Netherlands. I don’t have a personal relationship with a GP. Whether I can get euthanasia if or when my time comes is doubtful. Hopefully Finland has proper euthanasia laws in place by then. It’s what we are working for in Exitus. My mother at least approved.

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