Some are born with good luck, but Lady Luck didn’t bless me until I was 30 years old. She arrived in the form of a petite bundle of feistiness, inherent smarts, political savviness, personal warmth, playfulness, and beauty– named Susan DeMarco.
On the first of April – after some 45 years of teaming up in progressive/ populist battles against the big shots, bastards, and bullshitters who always try to run roughshod over workaday people and our democratic values – DeMarco slipped away from me and all who loved her. I was alone with her when she drew her last breath, 18 hours after I asked the hospital to honor her previously-written directive that all life-support tubes be removed from her body. Crushingly sad, of course, yet deeply rewarding, for she not only conquered the blood clot that had slammed into her brain, but also our society’s high-tech medical imperative that she be held captive in her own damaged body.
And how very DeMarco that she managed to “fly away” on the 1st, which was both Easter Sunday and April Fools Day!
Tributes and heartfelt reminiscences have poured in from all over – she would’ve been amazed that so many people appreciated her, her work, her assistance, and/or her example. One longtime Texas friend summed up the New Jersey native with the highest of Texan accolades: “She was mighty fine.”
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Even in death, DeMarco sent one last message of love to each of us, showing by example the importance of controlling one’s own end time. She was able to die as she wanted only because she had previously signed three essential legal documents stating her wishes and empowering me to allow the hospital to let her die as she wished: (1) Durable Power of Attorney, (2) Declaration of Guardian, and (3) Advanced Directive to Physicians.
Life comes at us fast, often including an abrupt end of life. If you’ve not yet taken charge of that time for yourself, there are two useful resources to guide you. First, a recent Medicare provision reimburses your own doctor for spending time during your physical exams to tell you about, discuss, and assist you – free of charge – with “Advance Care Planning.” Second, a how-to book titled Age Your Way – written in plain language by a Registered Nurse, Debbie Pearson – provides easy-to-follow info on the process.
Oh, one more thing I learned from my Dying-With-DeMarco experience is that it’s not enough to have signed the end-of-life documents – you also need someone who knows where they are when the time comes. Hospital officials cannot take your word that the documents exist. As I frantically attacked her “filing system” – ie, unmarked stacks of stuff – I could hear her saying, “Come on, Hightower, time to go!” But, luckily, they were found, and because of that, she was able to depart on her own terms.
You and I can do it, too – with just a little bit of planning ahead.
A note from the staff: Many folks have contacted us and asked where they can make a donation in DeMarco’s honor. Thank you so much–her wishes were to support the continued work of the Lowdown, which you can do here.