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.
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.