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Living and dying the way you see fit Carlos R. Davalos | Fri, Jul 23 2010 06:37 PM

Mike wanted to die on his own terms. He got his way.

He stopped living roughly 18 months ago; after one, maybe two, strokes stripped him of his pride and replaced it with fear and ignominy. Afraid of what others might think of him in his weakened state, he shuttered himself away in his bungalow.

"I'm tired," he said, already in his late 60s and having lived what polite people call a colorful life. He didn't have the energy to contend with anyone's pity.

For a year and a half his world was his bedroom. The few visitors he welcomed were forced to speak with him through a torn screen sheepishly covering his bedroom window. The hole allowed his cats to come and go as they pleased. He didn't have the strength to open and close the window in the morning and night. 

The Mike on the other side of that screen was not the same man from decades ago, when he'd sit on the porch of his impossibly tidy home and drink 40 ounces of his favorite malt liquor, trading ribald tales with young female neighbors. This man had given up.

"I'm tired," he'd say. "Done."

In unguarded moments he admitted to missing the sun. He wanted out, to feel the warmth of the day. But no amount of cajoling, begging, prodding, yelling or reason could get him to budge.

Crutches were offered. A wheel chair. A plan to sneak him out piggyback style and onto the porch where no one would see him. All of these were rebuffed with the same empty promise: tomorrow.

The friends and family he grew up with in Chula Vista had long ago scattered. But he enjoyed the nostalgia of reading The Star-News, talking about how the city had changed since he had grown up there a lifetime ago. He laughed about once making it into the paper, having "pissed off a bunch of people" in the process. Those were great times.

But looking past the memories it was clear to see he was deteriorating. Slowly at first. Then faster. Perhaps even faster than he could imagine as he literally dragged himself to the bathroom.

Still, he wouldn't let anyone into his home, much less take him to see a doctor or visit a clinic. "Tired of living."

His living - and dying - wish was to exist on his own terms, retaining some control over that which we are all powerless.

It wasn't for his friends, for the people who loved him, to decide what was best for him. That, Mike said, was up to him.

And so those who loved him were forced to watch him wither away.

And it was those same people who were forced to wrestle with feelings of betrayal and guilt for having called Social Services, hoping they would somehow convince him to accept help. But even they were unsuccessful.

And so his friends' selfish offers were rebuffed one final time. He would leave his home on his own terms. When he was ready.

On the last day of his life he made the same empty promise that had become routine: tomorrow. And with that the ones who loved him were sent away with hope that things might be different.

Mike lived and died the way he wanted. On his terms.

May we all be that lucky.

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