Beyond the Rhetoric: Suicide by Surgery – It Happens
by Harry C. Alford
This is a very sensitive subject that has been on my mind for nearly thirty years. I don’t believe there can be a stronger love than that of a son for his mother. My mother died in 1988 and hardly a day goes by without me having thought or remembrance of that beautiful lady who unconditionally showed love for me every day. It is a rough and dirty world out here but mothers find ways to protect their children (nurture and protect). It was clear to anybody who knew my father that his love for her was just as strong as mine and my brother’s.
Mom lived a full and beautiful life. However, she was doomed by sugar diabetes (Type II). This mean and long-term disease has haunted my mother’s side of our family. I have it but I am able to keep it under control through daily testing. That wasn’t the case with my mother. Despite having diabetes like her siblings and mother she was a chain smoker. My father started smoking at the age of 13 through the end of his life at 76. Mom started later at the age of 30.
Her diabetes started to take a toll in 1971. It eventually caused her first amputation and that began a very sad period for everyone who loved her. She would eventually have three amputations. Twice on one leg and once on the other. She was such a strong woman who took the final years of her life in a wheel chair with a smile and strong religion. Mom was the favorite of all my cousins. We had a large family network – my father had 9 siblings and my mother had 10. With nieces and nephews all over the nation. Everyone loved “Aunt Christine”. She and my father were one of the first to move out to California from Louisiana during the 1940’s and 1950’s. The others followed in legions and usually they would stay with us until they got themselves settled in job and home.
Despite her disability Mom remained in great spirits. When my father could retire they decided to move back to Louisiana and set up living on property my father had bought in 1942 for that exact purpose. Living in the “country” seemed to do my mother good. I really believe that country living was great considering her physical condition. The fresh Louisiana air, spring water, home raised poultry, pork and beef, and more. Despite this, my parents would never stop smoking.
My mother was strongly independent. She did not like being cared for. In fact, she told me one day that she would never live in a nursing home. “If you and your brother put me in one of those places I will come back to haunt you.” She made that clear to us. As time went on and she and my father crossed the milestone of 70 years of age, we could see her disability was beginning to take a toll on her and my father. My brother and I would routinely make visits to them and so would other relatives. Someone would always be there to assist Dad in assisting Mom. I guess that eventually became too much of a burden – on my father’s physical strength and my mother’s pride.
It was during our last trip to visit my parents that it hit me. My parents always enjoyed our twin sons. This time it seemed more so. “I have the most beautiful grandsons!” She would say repeatedly. On the evening we were getting ready to return to Indianapolis, Mom broke the news to us. “I am going into the hospital to receive another amputation” (further up the leg). I shouted, “You can’t survive that! No way!” My father remained silent which was extremely uncharacteristic. She retorted, “I am going to do it and the doctor agrees. This pain has got to leave!”, “The doctor agrees”. Hmmm, I thought to myself the doctor either wants the surgery money or knows she wants to die and sympathizes with that. In retrospect, I believe Mom was ready to let it go and looked forward to the joy of Heaven. A few weeks later she had the surgery and my fears proved to be correct. Mom was gone!
My father, as a widower, was just miserable. He lasted four years after my mother left. My brother and I merged our trips to him so he knew we would all be there. Upon arriving he shocked us by saying I am going in for surgery tomorrow. My stomach is upset. “It is happening again”, I said to myself. Two days later, Dad was dead from the surgery. He knew it was going to happen and the doctor seemed to agree with his wishes.
I have concluded that my parents used willing doctors to commit suicide through surgery. I would often repeat this to my wife, Kay. One day she presented me with this document: “In 2002, the annual suicide rate for persons over the age of 65 was over 15 per 100,000 individuals; this number increases for those aged 75 to 84, with over 17 suicide deaths per every 100,000. The number rises even higher for those over age 85. Further, elder suicide may be under-reported by 40% or more. Not counted are “silent suicides,” like deaths from overdoses, self-starvation or dehydration, and “accidents.” The elderly has a high rate of completing suicide because they use firearms, hanging, and drowning. Double suicides involving spouses or partners occur most frequently among the aged.” (source: www.aamft.org)