Death with Dignity - And Laughter

Dick Miller   


October 1, 2014. We were sad to learn of the recent death of Dick Miller. May his stories live on.

© Copyright 2012 by  Dick Miller


Photo of a young woman and an old woman laughing.

My next-door neighbor at the Beaverton Hills Assisted Living center was dying, but you’d never know it from the way things were going on.

Delores moved in shortly after the previous resident, Arlene, moved to California to be closer to family. Delores and I shared a love of jazz, so I got to know her and her family very quickly. She especially loved to come to listen when I gathered a bunch of my musician friends once a month for a Dixieland jam session, ostensibly for the residents, but it was a lot of fun for us, too.

As I saw Delores’ attendance at these sessions change from arriving with her walker to arriving in her wheelchair to being unable to attend, I realized her health was deteriorating. I saw the frequency of her family members’ visits increase to the point where one of her family members was there at all times, day and night.

When Delores was awake, the door, blinds, and curtains were open, her favorite music was playing in the background, people were chatting and laughing, and Delores was in the middle of it all. Even when Delores drifted off to sleep in the midst of the clamor, the laughter and chatter continued. I think this speaks highly of the kind of people they are, because I believe they understand that, subconsciously, Dolores was there enjoying herself right along with them. Jokester that I am, I went next door one rowdy day, flashed an old badge I found in a desk drawer, announced myself as the “Laughter Police,” and said I’d have to write them up if they didn’t get a handle on it. The burst of laughter that ensued was what I expected and hoped for.

I took one of Delores’ daughters aside one day to tell her how impressed I was with the way the family gathered around to show their love and support. Relatives came from all over the map, including children, nieces, nephews, cousins, in-laws, grandchildren, and more. Even several dogs came to visit. More than one pizza party took place in the apartment and spilled out into the atrium nearby. This was a wonderful reflection on what a great job Delores did in raising her kids, and they, in turn, in raising theirs.

I used to stop by Delores’ open door every so often on the way to my apartment next door, just to say “Hi” and see how things were going. One day, with Ella Fitzgerald singing in the background, Delores’ daughter told me “It won’t be long, now.” I asked if I could come in and say goodbye. I brought my wheelchair close to her bedside where she lay quietly sleeping, and held her hand for a moment or two. I got an overwhelming feeling of peace from Delores, as if she knew it was her time to go, and she was ready. She made her transition that night.

The thing I learned from this experience is that life, in all its aspects, is to be celebrated. Rather than say at a memorial service, “Gee, she was a great person, I really loved her,” take the opportunity to do it now.

And when it’s my time to be at death’s door, I sure hope there’s a pizza delivery guy waiting.

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