The article “Letting go: My battle to help my parents die a good death” was written by Kate Clanchy and published in The Guardian. The author writes about the moments leading to the death of her parents. Her parents, Joan and Michael, were elderly, sick, and wished to die. Joan and Michael always had advance decision documents, which refers to instructions to be followed by medical professionals in case of a medical emergency.
The couple explicitly stated that they did not want extreme interventions to be taken to keep either of them alive (Clanchy). The coronavirus pandemic cemented their joint decision because they felt even more isolated than before. Joan and Michael also felt that their quality of life had decreased since COVID-19 restrictions prevented them from partaking in activities that once brought them joy, such as taking walks.
The author narrates that her mother went in and out of hospital in 2020. Despite her wishes for heroic interventions not to be administered, the doctors still kept her alive for some time. Eventually, Joan contracted the virus and dies on a hospital bed. Shortly afterwards, Michael, who contracted the virus from Joan, dies too. He dies peacefully at home, and the primary cause of death is identified as takotsubo cardiomyopathy, also known as a broken heart (Clanchy).
The author writes that even though both her parents were counted as COVID-19 statistics, they probably did not have much time left. She says that the coronavirus was not really the cause of their death since they had underlying conditions and were mentally prepared for death before the pandemic struck. Kate is relieved that her parents finally got their wish to die. She welcomes death as something her parents wanted, rather than something against which they fought.
This article underscores the societal attitudes and perceptions surrounding death. It is thought of as something to be feared and avoided. The doctors treated Joan with antibiotics for a bone infection and gave her numerous pills for her racing heart. This further reduced her quality of life because when she went back home, she had lost her memory, digestion abilities, and confidence, among other things (Clanchy).
All this was done despite her wishes to die because she was rushed to the hospital without the advance decision documents. It is indicative of the culture that people are expected to want to live. Michael was able to avoid medical intervention because he did not go to hospital after his stroke. I think it should be more socially acceptable for people to determine when they want to die.
Some people would criticize the Clanchy couple’s decision to be allowed to die. They would demonize Kate for allowing her elderly parents to “surrender” to death. Others would argue that Joan and Michael were not in the right state of mind to make such life-or-death decisions. However, I think Kate made the right decision in supporting her parents in their final days. In her lengthy narrative, she describes how her parents suffered diseases of old age that changed who they were as people.
At some point, they became unrecognizable to themselves and to each other. This must have been difficult for her to witness, knowing that she could not do much to help them. Further, she respected their final wishes, no matter how hard this might have been for her. At the end of the article, she comments that her parents lived long, full lives (Clanchy). She also says that their memory will live on in the connections they had made with other people. I think this reflection is a testament to two people who lived fulfilling lives and died as they wished.
I experienced a mixture of emotions when reading the article. With clarity, Kate chronicles the challenges that her elderly parents endured. Reading the article also reminded me of my own experience with the death of a parent. I had to make the decision for my father, who wanted to die peacefully at home. He got his wish as he died with dignity and surrounded by his loved ones. Prior to this, we had spent a lot of time together, which made the decision a little easier. During the height of the pandemic in 2020, a lot of people were isolated from their loved ones. If I were one of those people, I doubt I would have made the decision to allow my father to forego medical intervention, leading to his death. Letting go of a parent is truly a difficult choice to make.
In conclusion, Kate Clanchy’s article challenges people to reconsider the social norms about death. She made the right decision by respecting her parents’ autonomy. I think it was a show of astounding courage for Kate to publish the article, considering the fact that she shares deeply intimate details about her family. If more people spoke openly about their loved ones’ final moments, perhaps the societal attitudes surrounding death, as something inherently bad, will change.
Clanchy, Kate. “Letting Go: My Battle to Help my Parents Die A Good Death.” The Guardian, 2021. Web.