Sharon visited Paula several times a week, often for several hours at a time.Paula told my sister that she was more than ready to die and end her suffering. Yet instead of weakening further, Paula rallied, regaining some strength, mental clarity and the ability to speak again.
During recent years, Paula had endured three increasingly debilitating strokes.
Paralyzed and confined to a hospital bed for five years, she could only take liquid nutrition, and a live-in caretaker attended to her most private needs. After the last stroke in June, Paula entered a home-based hospice program and was not expected to live more than a few weeks.
Those who gave to Paula most, loved her most, and filled her life with the meaning and joy that was possible.
Paula’s love enriched and added purpose to my sister’s life, and my sister’s love enriched and extended Paula’s life. Judy Gruen is the author of several books, including the newly released The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love with Faith.
Sharon and Paula shared such confidences in those final days, with each discovering how deeply each one had comforted and supported the other.
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Paula bluntly told Sharon that without her visits, she would have died long before.The realization also jolted me that I had been remiss in not going to visit Paula earlier; my sister’s close friend should have earned more attention from me.On the spur of the moment, I called my sister from the car and said I was coming over. But as my sister discovered, the knowledge that someone plans to end her life, even when that life is painful and seemingly has no prospect of recovery, is unnerving, even alarming. I instinctively took Paula’s hand and returned her greeting in kind.“I know she’s ready to go and I hate the thought of her suffering, but I also hate the thought of it being a suicide,” Sharon told me.“The anticipation of what she is doing has my stomach in knots. I don’t know what to make of it.” I offered my sister the hope that perhaps God would take Paula peacefully before the appointment with death could take place.Our society trumpets the virtue of the self through self-actualization, self-empowerment, and “following your passion.” Society has reframed physician-assisted suicide as “death with dignity,” which can have a compelling and romantic appeal.But as Rabbi Blech wrote: “Suicide in the simplest sense is disagreeing with a Divine verdict for life. – Why should I continue to live when I am in so much pain?They had known each other for 47 years, since Sharon had been a young teen, and had befriended with one of Paula’s children.Paula had become a surrogate mother to Sharon after our dear mother had passed away, regularly dispensing her witty, frank and sometimes irreverent advice about life.She encouraged my sister to return to school and offered standing invitations to family events and celebrations.For her part, Sharon had also become a surrogate daughter to Paula, whose adult children were shockingly inattentive and self-absorbed.