When to let go

I’m watching a person die on one of the social networks, second-hand, in the words of an adult child. I keep wanting to say it might be time for hospice, but it’s not my place to say anything. I’m not a family member, I don’t know the people. But the story is a familiar one.

There comes a point when cancer has got you. Until then there’s a tradeoff between quality of life and survival. I can have a good few days, weeks or months, or I can maybe have a few more of them, but be tortured. Not be a person, as much as someone who is operated on, stitched up, kept alive. Up to a point you fight, but then at some point, you take the prize, pain killers, and figure out what you want to do with the remaining time.

You can spend the time remarkably high, even, at times, happy. My father chose morphine, and spent his last weeks high as a kite, doing nothing, sad for sure, but also able to reflect on his life, and spending lots of time hanging out with people who known him, instead of being an object of the health care system. He was at home till the end.

I spent a lot of time in the hospital with him when he was fighting, and I didn’t want him to give up. But now, a few years later, it’s very obvious he did the right thing. He might have had another year or two, some of the doctors said that, but there wasn’t really much he could do with the time, and most of it would be spent in a hospital, steadily losing the battle, and what remained of his dignity.

Every family goes through this. The process doesn’t end with death. But how you come to feel about it has a lot to do with how much fighting there was, and at what point the finality of it was accepted.


About Dave Winer

Dave Winer, 54, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.
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