Monday, August 31, 2009

Senator Kennedy's Gift of Time: Dying on His Own Terms

When I heard that Senator Kennedy had died, one of my first thoughts was that he had been able to die on his terms. He announced in May 2008 that he had a malignant brain tumor. When he died on August 26th this year, he had lived over a year with his cancer diagnosis.

Ironically, Senator Kennedy outlived three brothers, four sisters and three nephews. His tribute to nephew John Kennedy Jr after his fatal plane crash was such a moving reflection on time and the years one is given to live.
His time, which was not doubled, but cut in half, will live forever in our memory...
But like his father, he had every gift but length of years.
A Gift of Time
He was given the time to say good by to family, friends and colleagues. He was given time to be honored for a lifetime of public service, receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. He was given the time to even plan and orchestrate his memorial and funeral services. President Obama also spoke of this gift of time in his eulogy for Senator Kennedy:
He was given the gift of time that his brothers were not, and he used that gift to touch as many lives and right as many wrongs as the years would allow.
The Final Year
In her interview with Maria Shriver spoke about her uncle's final year as a beautiful blessing. He lived to experience the love and the gratitude of his family and his colleagues, something that his brothers had not done.

The Gift of Time given to Senator Kennedy allowed him to experience death on his own terms, to say good bye, to receive love from others and to have a say in how his final days would be spent.

This is the type of desired outcome that most practitioners of end-of-life care wish for their patients, the chance to experience the Gift of Time.

Update September 11, 2009 reported today that Senator Kennedy began planning his funeral in 2007, long before his brain tumor. According to the article, Senator Kennedy had informed fellow members of the Massachusetts congressional delegation in 2007 that he had been working on his memorial plans and reflecting on his legacy, most notably that of Health Care.

In addition, as I'd suspected, an unnamed source in the article told CNN that the senator had focused on specific arrangements of his funeral and memorial service in the months leading up to his death.

Source: September 11, 2009. Kennedy began planning funeral before brain tumor