You can override his mother's decision, of course; you still hold medical power of attorney.
There was no hope of him recovering, and no hope if he rallied once again. Everyone was afraid of what would happen if he lived, including me. Would he fight for his life one more time if someone helped him do it? Damn it, an ex-wife shouldn't have to make the final call on letting a man die.
I sat there, holding his hand, gently stroking the withered skin. He was fifty-four years old, but looked closer to eighty. Advanced liver failure does that - the body swells, then shrinks. You lose your teeth, your sense of balance and your grasp of reality; the body's sewage treatment plant has shut down. This time it looked like his engines wouldn't start again without some spectacular medical intervention, and I was tired of being the only one who ever tried to save his life.
We were in the hospice clinical center. His sisters and the nurse administrator stood at the foot of his bed, watching me comfort the dying man they were afraid to touch. They were anxious, and waiting for my decision. I had already asked all the clinical questions and listened to the answers with calm efficiency. Yes, he had improved for a day, and that time had passed. Yes, I was observing a natural coma. No, he hadn't been sedated again for everyone's safety, he was no longer angry and fighting everyone in his path. Some time in the night, he had just given up the fight, and no one knew why.
He was the troubled son from an established, wealthy family. They liked me, they trusted me and I had given them hope. When his liver failed and they found Hepatitis C, he cleaned up for quite a long time. I successfully fought to get him listed for a transplant, but eventually his abuse of alcohol and pills erased his name from the roster. It's always in pencil, you see, with a history of addiction, and I remember when I stopped trying to curb his harmful habits as they reappeared.
His violent side roared when I stopped caring about much of anything he did. I kept hiding until the day he literally came out slugging, stopping his fist within a hair's breadth of my cheekbone. After that, small things like booby-trapped doors and public humiliation didn't phase me. When I kicked him out of our home, his family pushed him out of their hearts and minds once again. They didn't even care enough to judge me, or perhaps they just never really thought I could accomplish the impossible. Whatever the reason, none of them risked caring about what happened to him, until today. Until it was finally time to let him die.
I agree with his mother's decision. Let him go, I know you will take good care of him. Do I have to sign any paperwork?
The cloud of family fear left the room, and the hospice nurse left us to discuss our grief and confusion. Ah, so his mother had actually visited, and told him that it was time to let go of life. Would I do that, too, please; he trusted me and often listened to my advice. So I stood, brushed back his hair, and softly whispered in his ear.
It's me. And I brought a 12-pack of Bud.
Ah, no movement or recognition, confirmed by my audience. I saw shaking heads and heard surprised, guilty laughter.
Okay, I'll do what I can. If my voice and the promise of a 12-pack didn't bring him around, nothing will.
Yes, I'll do what I can, but not for any of you. For me - and maybe a bit for him - but let's not pretend there is a single selfless soul in this room. It's just time to give up hope, to save that emotion for something worthy of the word. I'll do my duty one last time, but damn every single one of you for asking me to do it.
They left me there with him, smiling their sad goodbyes. I took his hand again, and closed my eyes. What could I say, or do, that would make any difference? I didn't want to give up, no matter how hard I had tried the past few years. I was 48 years of age, and didn't know how to convince someone so young it was time to die, and I didn't like doing it. But I set my mind on days long past, bars long closed and and friends who, like him, had treasured the days of wine and roses.
They're waiting for you, see? There's a cold Bud on the bar in a tall, frosty mug. You won't be alone, there's no reason to be afraid.
I kissed his forehead and walked out into the blinding sunlight, to my car and then drove home. The call came rather soon; he had slipped away to that bar when no one was watching, just about half an hour before anyone noticed. I never told his sister during that conversation that I already knew he had died. He had stopped to kiss me goodbye as he left this earth, one last message from the man who always loved me and had never wanted to leave me.
We buried his ashes just two miles south of here. For weeks I waited for an explosion in the cemetery, certain that he'd show us it was wrong to bury him underground in a little box, forever trapped in the old family plot. But I think his spirit flew away before they cremated his broken body.
It took several years to understand his death had set me free.