Ralph Dolan: Taking control of the end of one’s life
Ralph Dolan poses for a portrait, Tuesday, in Northampton. SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »
HAYDENVILLE — It’s too bad that human existence has need of a word like suicide. How pleasant a world it would be if suicide never happened because all of us were “sane” and all our circumstances throughout life quite tolerable, even death itself.
The world that I inhabit is full of human suffering: one long, mournful cry is carried on the wind. We would like it to be otherwise. We go to the experts to learn the secrets of the good life. We work hard to keep our psycho-physical balance in a social, political and economic realm that is quite out of balance.
The human community is at a crossroads. The course we take and the kind of world we leave in perpetuity depends in part upon how we answer the question: Why do I exist?
Even if I am blessed with comfortable and stable circumstances, how can I fail to see the misery, exploitation, torture, slaughter, famine and disease in other quarters of the human community.
Even close at hand: funeral processions, sickness, poverty, joblessness, homelessness, misunderstandings, errors of judgment, rip-offs galore, congestion, injustice, loneliness, betrayal and broken dreams. It’s a constant struggle to stay alive so you can have the dubious pleasure of growing old, falling apart and dying.
It’s just the facts of life. No one is exempt.
Those who commit suicide are responding to circumstances that for them are intolerable. Circumstances that are intolerable come to us in so many disguises.
Youth is an incredibly beautiful time, a time of exploration and rapid expansion. To have that end so traumatically in suicide seems such a profound loss, such a waste. We try to save them but we can’t until we as a society turn away from violence.
As I see it, the older you get, the less tragic is suicide until you get to that level of deterioration at which your interest in suicide makes perfect sense to those who truly care for you. You’ve had a good life Chalk it up. Physical disabilities and brain malfunctions make it impossible to go on.
What horrifies many elders is that living death which occurs after one loses the ability to be self-sufficient, needing continuous care and not recognizing one’s own kin.
A successful exit requires careful planning.
There is a certain nobility in facing the end-of-life issues squarely and, when the moment arrives, taking the matter into your own hands. I am reminded of generations upon generations of Inuit elders who stole off in the night and threw themselves into the dark, arctic sea when it became clear that they were failing and slowing down the hunt. The act was integrated into the way of life. The very survival of the people depended upon it.
A new term is needed: self-deliverance. It’s actually an old term which can be defined as a suicide that contains strong elements of courage, selflessness and living in harmony with the natural law of endings.
The problem of over-population will plague humanity. Asking couples to voluntarily limit the number of children they bring into the world would have little effect on the population explosion. It would take several generations facing the hardships of over-population to get the problem under control.
In a society of the not-too-distant future, our elders who have come to the end of the road, however they choose to define that, will be allowed to deliver themselves in a dignified manner from this earthly coil.
It will ease the congestion on the continents and in the nursing homes. It will ease the fear and worry that beset the elderly as they become increasingly physically incapacitated.
Far removed from religious dogma and the law of the land it is clear: self-deliverance, the last bastion of human freedom, is an idea whose time has come.
Ralph J. Dolan of Haydenville served in Vietnam and has had a career as a licensed psychotherapist. His column appears on the fourth Monday of the month.