When I was a little girl I would often wake up early on the weekend. Well before my late-sleeping older brother and similarly snooze-inclined Mum. After the time I managed to cut myself so badly I needed three stitches on my ankle I wasn’t really allowed to get out of bed before Mum was up to supervise, but there was one exception – slipping into bed with my Nan.
I would sneak out of the room I shared with my dead-to-the-world brother and head up the hall on tiptoes to push open the door to my grandmother’s room. Then I would slide into bed next to her and snuggle up close.
“Sarah,” she would murmur in her disapproving teacher tone, “your toes are like ICE.”
I would wiggle around a lot, trying to find a safe spot for my feet, but by the time I was settled the damage would be done, and she would be awake.
We would then have lovely long chats about all sorts of things. She would tell me stories about my grandfather, who died before I was born, and about my mum as a little girl. She would regale me with the gossip from parties and the silly things my grandfather’s best friend did.
She had tales of her brothers’ practical jokes and the time her father killed the family’s pet duck and made her mother roast it for dinner, and she would patiently retell, over and over again, my favourite stories: Especially the ones about the family pets. (Almost all of them cats.)
I learnt a lot from my Nan in those early morning chats. She would always listen to and consider all my curious questions, and give me honest answers where she felt she could, and we would talk about all sorts of things lying in bed together, her long fingers stroking my forehead and playing with my hair.
We never stopped having those morning cuddles, Nan and I.
I grew up, moved away, and saw her less and less. But I always made time when visiting to crawl back into her bed and talk. Then she got sick, and had to move into a nursing home. The last time I lay next to her was in her hospital-style bed, explaining for what felt like the thousandth time that I lived in Sydney now. Because she couldn’t remember.
She is no longer the woman who raised me, and in her place is a woman I know she never wanted to be.
When the Northern Territory passed a Euthanasia law in the 1990s, we talked about it in my house. My brother and I were still children, but my parents, and my Nan, believed in discussing issues and politics with us, even the hard stuff.
We went to a Catholic primary school, and the ethics of euthanasia was also discussed in our classrooms. We knew what it was, and what the arguments for and against it were.
One morning, during one of our bed chats Nan and I were talking about it and she told me she supported euthanasia. She said: “I never want to not be able to take care of myself. If I ever can’t I want a bullet and gun.”
I remember thinking that day would never come. That it didn’t matter if that’s what she thought, or what she had planned. That it would simply never happen.
But children can think that way. Adults are forced to face reality.
The reality facing me now is that Australia never bothered to have the serious discussion we needed to about Euthanasia. Since the Northern Territory’s law was overridden politicians have refused to put it back on the table.
It is galling to me when people who had the capacity to change something and didn’t then complain about it later. (*Cough* same sex marriage *cough* Julia Gillard *cough* Kevin Rudd.) Bob Hawke is the latest to do this, although I appreciate the times have changed, as they say, since he was in charge.
The former Prime Minister has spoken out loudly in favour of Euthanasia, telling Andrew Denton that the case for it is “inarguable”.
“I can see no logical or moral basis for such an absurd position,” he said.
Hawke revealed he has an agreement with his wife Blanche d’Alpuget, and he’s been very candid about his fears as he ages.
“Something I could not stand would be to lose my marbles. If that were in fact to happen, then something is done about it,” he said.
Hawke is 86. So he’s obviously motivated not just by his convictions, but also by self-interest. Something he identifies as one of the major barriers to change.
“Politicians by and large are not the bravest of creatures. Their first concern is saving their seat and they don’t want to do anything that’s going to lose them votes.”
Watch euthanasia being debated on Q&A. Post continues after video...
Canada is having this debate right now, but all Australia’s politicians will concede is that the time has come to maybe consider discussing whether we should discuss it.
Let’s not wait any longer.
It’s too late to give my Nan the power she wanted to choose her own path. She will live the rest of her life surrounded by a loving family and the absolute best care, but we will know it is not necessarily what she planned or wanted, and she knows it too.
I love my Nan more than anything in the world. I don’t want her to die, but I also don’t want her to suffer. I want her to be happy, and in control of her own life. If we permitted people to plan, I would know that whatever she decided to do, it had been her choice.
That chance is gone now.
And when she is gone (which I still selfishly wish is a long way off) I will remember her the way that means the most to me.
In her orange night shirt, letting me share her bed.
Teaching me to flip my head upside down to use a hairdryer because I’ll get more volume that way.
Standing in the schoolyard with an umbrella to shield her from the sun, spinning a tall tale to her students about how she’s 121.
Giving me the bowl to lick after she’s put a sponge in the oven.
Watching Wimbledon with the sound turned down in the middle of the night.
Cutting up eye fillet to give to the cat, because cats deserve only the best.
Euthanasia is not about death, it’s about life and dignity and choice and power. I’m sad my Nan can’t have those things. But it’s time to change things so that other people can.