In 2021, my beloved husband, Kent, utilized Colorado’s End of Life Options Act to have the peaceful, gentle death he deserved after a life of creating beauty for others. I am sharing his story in the hopes that others will have end-of-life conversations with their loved ones, allowing them the opportunity to have their wishes fulfilled.
Kent was a teacher by trade, but above all, he was an artist. He did hundreds of etchings over the course of our marriage, and in the last five years of his life, he took up oil painting, too. From when we first met, until the day he died more than four decades later, he was always pointing out the striking tableau, the beautiful colors, the particular quality of the daylight. His eye for beauty made me and so many others enjoy the world more.
In February 2021, Kent noticed he was slurring his words and that his hands were numb. He thought he was having a stroke, so he went to the emergency room where they quickly ruled out a stroke and referred him to a neurologist. He learned then he had bulbar palsy, a motor neuron disorder similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.
When he received his diagnosis, he was devastated about not being able to see his grandchildren grow up. He was so sad to think of leaving a life he loved and enjoyed, and he had so many creative ideas he wished to share.
As a very driven artist, a teacher and an intellectual, Kent was terrified of becoming unable to express himself artistically and verbally. He also knew that there was no possibility of getting better. For this reason, from the very beginning and at every meeting with his doctor, Kent was clear that he wanted to utilize Colorado’s medical aid-in-dying law when the time came. He talked about it with everyone — me, his doctors, his social worker, our daughters — and we all supported him in that. Our family never shied away from hard conversations.
Kent’s disease progressed unusually and surprisingly fast. At the beginning of September — only seven months from diagnosis — he entered hospice after a failed feeding tube, 50 pounds of weight loss, and increased falls due to weakness. He made his first request for aid-in-dying medication a few days later. Additional requests and visits followed. Kent felt great comfort knowing that he had the option of a peaceful death which would occur in his own home before he lost the power to communicate and before he would become a burden to others..
On a morning soon after his medication was available, Kent said he was ready and asked me to call our daughters. While waiting for them to arrive at the time he chose, he planned the readings for his funeral and had me read the Tao Te Ching, which had always helped him be peaceful. For the site of his death, he chose the sunroom, his favorite room. The light in the late afternoon was beautiful and the windows in this room, which he built, looked out over the trees in our backyard, which he had pruned and shaped. We had the door and window open, so that he could hear the birds chirping and water gurgling in the fountain outside. Kent knew exactly where he wanted everyone — me, our adult daughters, and Kent’s sister — to sit.
When everyone arrived, we shared tearful goodbyes. When Kent was ready, he let me know. Before he self-administered the end-of-life medicine, he squeezed my hand. Then he put the medication in his feeding tube and released the clip. He was unconscious almost immediately and within an hour, he had passed. We sat by his side to the end.
My mother’s death was rife with discomfort and confusion. Kent, by contrast, was able to choose the day, the time and who was with him. He got to die in peace and with dignity. If he didn’t have that option, he would have slipped into a coma and I would have had to be the one to make a decision about withdrawing life support. Instead, Kent shared his end-of-life wishes with us and got support from his medical team. We both felt very thankful that he could have control over the process and end his life on his own terms and with dignity. I feel so fortunate that he had that opportunity, as so few people do.
If you haven’t had important conversations with your loved ones about their end-of-life wishes, I encourage you to do so before it is too late. Free resources on planning for the end of life are available online from national nonprofit Compassion & Choices.
Marilyn Talmage-Bowers lives in Denver.
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