Life, Death & Lee: A collection of stories chronicling how Northampton resident Lee Hawkins'got the death she planned for

Last modified: Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I had known Lee for years, since we both were members of the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence -- but it was at a distance. After I wrote a column for the Gazette in 2013 about my father's suicide and my family's subsequent decision to be public about what he did, Lee reached out to me. She wrote a letter describing her thoughts about approaching the end of life, the many conversations she’d had on the subject with her children and her position that suicide is a reasonable option for someone who has had a long, full life. This led to a 2013 story about her approach to dying. Over the six weeks I worked on that story, I visited with Lee at least once a week for long interviews. After it was published, we agreed that we both wanted to continue our visits, and a friendship developed. Lee and I did the things friends typically do: We had dinners together, played games, watched television, went to the movies, to concerts, and we gabbed and gabbed.

After Lee began making plans in June and July to put into action the “planned death” she had talked about, I began thinking this was an opportunity to tell the rest of Lee’s story.

Lee and her children, Sue, Jerry, and Becky, graciously allowed me to watch the process as it unfolded. At first we agreed we’d try it out, but if it seemed too intrusive, they could call a halt to the story. As it worked out, they were unfailingly welcoming of me. Carol Lollis, the Gazette photo editor, also had open access to take pictures.

During my visits, I always had my notebook handy, and as usual, I asked a lot of questions of Lee and her children. I attended medical meetings with them, watched social gatherings and family time. But I was a friend, too, and sometimes Lee and I just sat together, holding hands.

Some people may have thought Lee approached her death as if it were opportunity to educate people, that she was advocating for others to consider doing what she did. I never thought that. To me, it seemed that Lee was doing what felt right for her, in her particular situation, at her particular stage of life. She saw nothing wrong with what she did, nothing shameful in the least about the way she ended her life. It was for that reason, I think, that she was so generous about talking about it with people individually, and with the readers of this newspaper.


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