About this series

Last modified: Monday, September 22, 2014

The stories that appear in the Gazette today and over the next two days have their roots in another story published July 31, 2013. That piece examined Eleanor “Lee” Hawkins’ candid views about end-of-life care, her thoughts about how she intended to approach the end of her life, and her children’s perspective about their mother’s bold ideas about death.

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. I don’t think they ever said no when I asked to stop by, which I did a lot over the final two months of Lee’s life. And they finally told me to walk into the house without knocking so as not to interrupt whatever was going on there. The scenes described in this series were scenes I witnessed.

Carol Lollis, the Gazette photo editor, also had open access to take pictures.

When I was reporting this story, I was doing so as a journalist, but I was also Lee’s friend. Writing a story about someone you are friends with is generally frowned upon in this profession, but this unusual situation seemed worth an unorthodox reporting approach. After all, it was a newspaper story that had sparked our friendship.

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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