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Susan - Interview 36

Age at interview: 58
Brief Outline: In 2001 Susan's father jumped to his death. He was 78 and had terminal cancer and did not want to die a painful, lingering death. Susan felt comfortable with his decision, but wishes he could have had an assisted death so he could have died less violently.
Background: Susan is a part time teacher. She is married and has 2 grown-up children. Ethnic background/nationality: White British.

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Susan’s father had led a wonderful life. He was always full of “life and laughter” and had provided his family with a happy and secure home. When he was only 18 he had had an accident and had spent a long time in hospital, so knew what it would be like to be seriously ill and dependent on other people. He had also seen many other men die when he was serving on an aircraft carrier during the war. This may have contributed to his decision to take his own life when he was diagnosed with stomach cancer for the second time at the age of 78.
 
Susan’s father had had surgery for the cancer and had decided not to have chemotherapy. When the cancer returned in 2001 he decided that he did not want a painful, lingering death, so he decided to end his life by jumping over a cliff. His wife had died two years previously and he had become lonely. This may have contributed to his decision to end his life.
 
Susan’s father had told Susan and his other children that he would end his life in this particular manner if he became terminally ill, so it was not a surprise to Susan when one day her father told her that he planned to end his life. Her father had phoned her and her brothers the night before his death to say his good-byes. Susan and her brothers did not try to stop her father from taking this step. They knew that he would choose suicide at some stage if he developed a painful terminal illness. Susan visited her father on the morning of his death and asked him to re-think the method he had chosen as a way to end his life, but he was a strong character and was determined to jump to his death because he did not want to survive in any way. 
 
Some time after Susan’s father had left the house Susan told the police and his GP what had happened. Susan felt sad to think of her father dying on his own, but she thinks he was a brave and courageous man. He was determined not to be a burden to anyone. She wishes that he had had the option of an assisted death and she hopes that one day the law will change in the UK to make this type of death possible.
 
The coast guard found Susan’s father’s body at the bottom of the cliff and her brother went to the hospital to identify him. She does not remember anything about the inquest. Her brother organised the funeral, which was a “joyous occasion.” It was a real celebration of a life. Two to three hundred people came to the crematorium.
 
Some people were shocked by the way in which Susan’s father had decided to end his life, but Susan felt completely at ease with the manner of his death because her father had prepared the family so well in advance, and because she knew that her father would not have wanted to lie in hospital and die an undignified death. Her father had talked about the way he might die for at least 20 years. He had always said that he would end his life in this manner if he became terminally ill. Susan’s only worry was that perhaps the way in which her father died might have influenced others to take their lives in a similar manner.
 
Susan’s sons were aged 18 and 21 at the time. They also seemed to accept their grand-father’s death and did not query the way he had chosen to die. Susan was completely honest about what had happened.
 
After her father’s death Susan found comfort by talking to good friends and through her faith in the church. She accepted what had happened, and did not feel angry and she did not blame herself. Naturally she felt sad when clearing out her father’s house and when she came across photographs and other mementoes.  
 
Looking back, Susan feels completely comfortable about what happened and she makes a plea for further work on assisted dying, and believes that people should be able to make dignified choices when they come to the end of their lives.

Susan was interviewed in December 2007.

 

She accepted her father’s decision to take his own life. He had incurable stomach cancer and did...

She accepted her father’s decision to take his own life. He had incurable stomach cancer and did...

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My father decided to commit suicide when he was 78 years old. I think there’s quite a history to that decision though and the fact is that he was a very larger than life man, he was a very vibrant, active man, for all those years, he’d had a wonderful life as far as he was concerned, and as far as we were concerned. He’d done a lot of travelling, he was full of life and laughter and had given us a very secure and wonderful family life really, we always felt that there was happiness in the home. However when he was 18 and he was learning to fly, he joined the air force at that stage, he had a terrible accident, and he had to spend a year and a half in hospital when he was 18, and I think that gives us some of the background as to why, when he was 78 and was diagnosed with stomach cancer for the second time he decided that he didn’t want a lingering death, he’d already spent several years of his life being an invalid, and depending on other people, so that at 78 when he couldn’t foresee living much longer, he decided that he’d terminate his life.


At that stage, I mean also in his particular circumstances at the time, he’d been married to my mother for 50 years, and she had died in 1999 which was 2 years before he committed suicide and I think that was a factor. He’d obviously become deeply lonely.


Well he was in a lot of pain, and really he’d, he’d just had an aversion to hospitals having spent two years when he was younger in hospital, he didn’t ever want to spend time in hospital again I don’t think. So he made the decision to take his own life. I think the difficulty with that was that he chose quite a violent way to commit suicide, so therefore the friends didn’t understand why he’d chosen to go over a cliff, however we as his children, three of us, had almost been prepared by him, because he said if he ever had a terminal illness he would not want his death to be lingering or have extended pain in any way. He’d always said he’d go quickly and always said it would be over this particular cliff so it sounds strange but, but we weren’t as shocked by the way he chose to die, and also on the previous evening he’d actually phoned us all up, and more or less told us that he had decided not to go on with his life. I think one of the things why we all accepted it so easily was that you know we felt that he’d had such a full life.

 

Her father’s ‘humanist’ funeral was a ‘joyous occasion’. It was a ‘celebration’ of different...

Her father’s ‘humanist’ funeral was a ‘joyous occasion’. It was a ‘celebration’ of different...

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…do you want to say anything about his funeral?


Well that was a joyous occasion because he was a man with a wonderful sense of humour, and my brother found the strength enough to talk about his life and gave lots of details. I mean he’d traveled a lot, he’d traveled with my mother a lot in the last years, he was always the life and soul of the party, my father was a real party man and there was a lot of laughing at the funeral. He was a very popular man, two to three hundred at the crematorium, people obviously write lovely things to you at that time, it was…


It was a celebration of his life?


It was. A real celebration. Yes, I don’t think I cried much, I’ve got a little bit of lump now but I don’t, I don’t think I’ve cried much because he, he has lived life so fully.


Mm.


And I think he was proud of all of us as well, I don’t think any of us let him down.  And no, I’ve no regrets.


Was it a Christian funeral?


It wasn’t actually, no. My father was not a Christian.


So would you call it a humanist one?


Yes I suppose so, yes, just a celebration really, at the crematorium, you know it wasn’t at the church, although there was a vicar who spoke as well, a Reverend who had known my father and christened both my sons, and been involved with the school where I had worked, so he did, he was involved, but my father was not a believer, unlike my mother.


So what form did the funeral take? You had some music and some readings and people spoke?


Yes, music, readings, my brother gave the longest speech I suppose you’d call it, it was really celebrating different aspects of his life, I don’t think anyone else spoke; I wasn’t brave enough to speak. I think I would’ve cried. I don’t think my youngest brother spoke, but then we went back to a hotel for a reception, a lot of people there and again I don’t think I remember being, I don’t think I was very upset, and I don’t think anyone else cried really. I think the people, he had quite a, a community that met with him on the beach, where he was a beach hut owner for 30 years, and I think they were shocked and surprised that he’d chosen that particular method of death, more than, you know more than us who knew him well.


Mm.


But other than that I thought it was a real, it was a proper closure. I don’t think there were any questions as to why he’d chosen to go, I mean, he would’ve died, but died in a, in a far more undignified way, he was not someone who wanted to lie in a hospital.

 

Susan’s only sadness is that her father did not have the option of an easier way to die.

Susan’s only sadness is that her father did not have the option of an easier way to die.

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I think the only sadness I have about his death is that I think that there should’ve been an easier way for him to go, and you, you just hope that if you are, you know, we, or I ever reach that stage in life where you’ve got a terminal illness and you don’t want to suffer long painful undignified death that, that I really pray that things change in the future, and that we do have, this country become more civilised about people having a choice.


Of assisted dying?


Yes, have assisted suicide. I really do strongly feel that. Because how much easier would it have been. He made a very rational, reasonable, decision which we completely understood and appreciated, and how much better would it have been for him to be able to do that at that stage? Having lived his life so fully, so well, to have made a, an easier decision, yeah, it’d have been much better.


And how do you feel about it all now, looking back?


Comfortable. I found somewhere; you know my behaviour on that morning, not trying to stop him, strange. But I can, I can reason that out really as to what I, cos I, I think that that, it would’ve just been, he would’ve done it sometime anyway, and it would’ve been, the repercussions for trying to stop him wouldn’t have been very pleasant.


Mm.


I mean much more unpleasant for all of us.

 

Was there anything that could’ve prevented his death do you think?

 

No, I don’t think so. No.

 

Is there anything else that you want to add that we haven’t covered, do you think?

 

No, just a, a plea for further work into assisted suicide really, giving people dignified choices when, when it comes to dying.

 

Susan is sad that her father – who she believes made a rational decision to end his life - did...

Susan is sad that her father – who she believes made a rational decision to end his life - did...

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I think the only sadness I have about his death is that I think that there should’ve been an easier way for him to go, and you, you just hope that if you are, you know, we, or I ever reach that stage in life where you’ve got a terminal illness and you don’t want to suffer long painful undignified death that, that I really pray that things change in the future, and that we do have, this country become more civilised about people having a choice.


Of assisted dying?


Yes, have assisted suicide. I really do strongly feel that. Because how much easier it would it have been. He made a very rational, reasonable, decision which we completely understood and appreciated, and how much better would it have been for him to be able to do that at that stage? Having lived his life so fully, so well, to have made a, an easier decision, yeah, it’d have been much better.

 

And how do you feel about it all now, looking back?


Comfortable. I found somewhere; you know my behaviour on that morning, not trying to stop him, strange. But I can, I can reason that out really as to what I, cos I, I think that that, it would’ve just been, he would’ve done it sometime anyway, and it would’ve been, the repercussions for trying to stop him wouldn’t have been very pleasant.

 

Mm.

 

I mean much more unpleasant for all of us.

 

Was there anything that could’ve prevented his death do you think?

 

No, I don’t think so. No.

 

Is there anything else that you want to add that we haven’t covered, do you think?

 

No, just a, a plea for further work into assisted suicide really, giving people dignified choices when, when it comes to dying.

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