The Old Grey Mare: Part 3

May 10, 2012

A few years ago, I was searching for apartments with a couple of friends, and came across a spacious apartment in a two-family house not too far from where I live now.  The landlords lived downstairs, which wasn’t ideal, and they were in their early 80s, which was also not ideal (possible noise issues from us), but we took the apartment and ended up having a really wonderful time living there.  I especially, had a wonderful relationship with the two elderly landlords, and even after I moved out, I had breakfast with them every few months and kept in touch.

A couple of months ago I called them to make plans for breakfast and never got a call back.  I got a little worried, but I didn’t want to overreact, so I waited a few weeks to bug them again.  The husband, Sal, answered the phone, and I responded by saying, “S! I called you a month ago and you never called me back!”  His response was the one I had been worried about.  His wife, Coral, who had been suffering from Parkinson’s for years, was sick.  I was going over to the house anyway that night to see my friend who still lives there, so I said I’d stop by to say hello.  What I didn’t expect, was that my hello would also be goodbye.

She hadn’t eaten in a month and had lost significant weight.  She still had her feisty sense of humor, but was weak, and I knew that this was it.  Sal, who loved Coral and had been caring for her for years, told me that he was probably going to take her to the doctor the following day to get some fluids and a feeding tube in her so she could get stronger.  In my head, I was saying “Eek!  She seems to be making the choice to let go – don’t push it!”  My therapist self just listened and validated feelings, and when I needed to leave, I gave them both a hug and told Coral not to let Sal boss her around too much.  She said with a smile and a tightened fist, “I’ll punch him.”

That was the last time I saw Coral, and she passed away a week later in the peace of her own house and her own bed.

Despite this being difficult, emotionally, I carried on, went to New Orleans, and unfortunately missed both of the services.  I haven’t gone back to see Sal yet, but when I do, I’m sure I’ll find a man with a broken heart who wished he could do more for Coral at the end.


When a family member or loved one is suffering, the first thing we want to do is make them feel better.  We want them to be healthy and happy, and most importantly, we want them to be the same as they used to be.  When Sal said he wanted to take her to the hospital to get a feeding tube, he was probably going through that exact mental pattern.  He wanted her to be better.

This brings about a question I have asked before: When do we let go?  What is the point that we let life take its course and let the declining loved one die peacefully and without intervention?  How do we wrap our heads around the rationale when we are so wrapped up in emotion?

I bring myself back to the Terri Schiavo story…How much is too much?  Doctors had said there was no chance that she would recover after trained professionals had tried multiple types of therapy for her. Nothing was making a difference for so many years that she ended up being on a feeding tube in a vegetative state for close to fifteen years before it was decided that she should be able to pass away.  She was fairly young, which I’m sure contributed to her family being so tortured about her situation, but when the body or the brain decides to go, decides not to eat, decides it is finished, for whatever reason, what is the point where we are able to see things from an objective point of view and make a decision that is truly in the best interest for the person who is suffering?

Luckily, my friend Coral was allowed to go in peace.  I’m not sure of the circumstances that led to that decision, and I’ll ask Sal someday, but I’m glad she’s not suffering anymore.  She was so funny, and had so much life, but I know that underneath the surface, she was frustrated that she couldn’t do certain things anymore, and was in pain a lot.  Because she was elderly on top of her health problems, I think it was only fair for her family to let her die naturally, and they did.

I hope someday that I have people around me who will make the right decisions for me when I’m not able to really live my life anymore.


Names have been changed to ensure individuals’ privacy.


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