As part of our Nov. 16 report on how community activist and outdoorsman Fred Nelligan chose to use Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, we asked readers to share their own end-of-life stories. Meghan McGuire of Portland submitted the following:
“Damn Fool Outings” with my Grandfather, Walt Marsh, were the toast of our childhood. Usually, Grandpa would take us on educational jaunts, active and outdoor stuff, such as hiking, beaches and birdwatching. But these outings, the name coined by Grandpa, were designed for fun and fun only. Amusement parks, buffets, boardwalks, whatever idiotic spoils we wanted. He was strong and powerful and fun, a Missouri-bred farmer’s son who considered family first and his vegetable garden second. When each of us were small he would hoist us over his shoulder and yell, “Pigs for sale, pigs for sale.” He was the best grandpa you could ask for and the captain of our family.
He did not enjoy getting old and the ways age slowed him. Chronic knee problems had annoyed him for years and true to his small-town midwestern roots, he refused to get surgery. Frustrating for all of us who loved him. When he was suddenly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last year, he never said, “I told you so.” He spent one or two nights in the hospital, but left before he could tolerate any more terrible food or quacks wearing scrubs. He certainly was not the “hospital type.”
I spent a lot of that summer in Ashland, helping Grandpa and Grandma with the garden he built to supply our restaurant, Green Springs Inn, with fresh produce. On my first trip down from Portland, Grandpa was hunkered down on his hands and knees weeding. I sent a pic to my family; what an amazing and stubborn old goat.
As he rapidly got thinner and more sick, I took on more and more of the hard labor in the garden but he remained the mastermind. I watched him as he sat in a lawn chair and watered and imagined what he was thinking. He seemed so young. The summer and the disease progressed shockingly fast.
The last week was misery and the brevity was the only thing that saved us. Grandpa fell. He got mad, then frustrated. We made calls. We cried and said goodbye. I told him I couldn’t imagine life without him, I still hardly can. He made the call for the pills. We slept on it.
He died early the next morning surrounded by his family. He took one pill, and then took another shortly after, and it was over. It was his call. Even though this was the hardest loss I have ever experienced and am still grieving, the one thing that was clear to all of us was that this was absolutely the right decision for him. I am so thankful that I live in a state where he could achieve this dignity. The only thing that could have made this incredible loss more painful would have been if his pain had been strung out any longer. People like my grandfather deserve to make this decision for themselves. I will be an advocate for Oregon’s Death with Dignity forever.
By Meghan McGuire, Portland