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In January 2004, my father had prostate surgery. During the operation, cancer was found as a secondary diagnosis. From the beginning on, the doctors told my father that he would never defeat this type of cancer; he would die. We were absolutely unprepared when confronted with this fact. The only choice my father had was to live the remainder of his life in stages. My father decided to accept every single stage and started the fight against his cancer. He asked me to accompany him and my mother on this path. 

 "And I gave him my word”

 

It was clear to us that we wanted to fill this “given” time with life. So we set off. An awfully bad, yet wonderful time. We were still able to experience a lot of special moments together. There also remained enough time to take care of the matters that were important to my father. Like his most important wish: to be able to die in dignity.

In one of our conversations, my father said to me: ““As soon as I have attained my pure contentment, I will possess the highest dignity a human being can have. With this dignity, I will die. And that is exactly what I want. Other people with all their machines and apparatuses shall not change that.”

This statement made me realize that he was asking for my help to let him go when his time had come. For me, an intolerable thought. My father explained his wish to me in many other conversations. My understanding of his request grew. To ensure I was protected by law, he directed his wish in an advance health care directive. We were able to accept and understand all pros and cons the advance directive entailed, and found the respective solution for my father. Unfortunately, for one aspect, we could not find clarification, not to mention understanding. It was the question about his religious belief. My father, a baptized and faithful Christian, found a definite answer in his faith. When God calls, nobody can resist. Not even in cases where all secular resources for the preservation of life are used.

Even today, I think about the following questions: Why is a person not allowed to accept his or her certain death? Why is a person not allowed to devise his or her own path into God’s hands, and ask others for assistance in taking that path? Do the dying have to submit to all worldly and human interpretations of the word of God? Is it really intended that we are to refuse the call of God? 

My father passed away in November 2005. His journey started with the clear purpose to die. His path was full of pain, tears of desperation, and the fear of leaving this world and the people he loved. The grief about his passing would be all he would leave behind. Ultimately, he died the way he wanted: at home and in my mother’s and my arms.

For nearly two years, I carried with me his request to stay by his side on his journey to death. During this time, I learned the reasons why a person would express such a request. In the beginning, it was very difficult to understand the path my father had chosen. But with every discussion we had about his decision, it became easier for me to understand what a dying person wishes: just to be allowed to die in dignity.

I wrote a book about this time. It is titled "And I gave him my word” (German title “Und ich gab ihm mein Versprechen”), ISBN 978-3-89950-920-5, author Rainer Stoerring, in the publishing company edition-fischer in Frankfurt, Germany.

In it, I describe my father’s journey from the diagnosis to his death. I elaborate on the disease of cancer, the current demands and expectations placed on us as human beings, the psychosocial background, and the long-term care, as well as the desire of a person to be allowed to die in dignity. I do not claim that every person affected can share my experiences. However, I hope to give others in a similar situation the courage to make their own decisions.

This is the reason why I wrote my book and would like to offer it to others. I think it is very important for us to trust in God, and I want to show that we have to and can accept God’s way, including death and the individual path to death, without having to justify it to anyone.