Fintan O’Toole: My father wanted to die and I promised to help him

In the end, if we cannot choose to die, we cannot choose to live

Many people in the caring professions do everything to keep a patient alive but know that a peaceful death may be much better than lingering pain and terror. Many know that the line between passively allowing someone to die and actively speeding up their death is much less than absolute. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

Many people in the caring professions do everything to keep a patient alive but know that a peaceful death may be much better than lingering pain and terror. Many know that the line between passively allowing someone to die and actively speeding up their death is much less than absolute. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

After my mother died, my father wanted to die too. He was desolate from grief – much more, I think, than he had ever imagined. He was getting into his late eighties. He had to wear a colostomy bag. He had diabetes, which gave him terrible pain in his feet. He couldn’t walk far, so his lifelong love affair with bird-watching was over. The fellow twitchers who had formed his social group were great about trying to include him. But he began to shun them because they only reminded him of what he had lost.

This was not a whim or a passing mood. He was not deranged. His depression was not irrational

 Now and then, but with increasing regularity, he would talk to me very seriously and soberly and tell me that all he really wanted was to die with dignity. I couldn’t handle it. I would change the subject, move on. I didn’t have the courage to go down into his darkness. I didn’t want to lose him.

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