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Actor explains how physician-assisted dying can bring comfort

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I recently celebrated a birthday. Yeah, another one. So I’m 76, which is good, right? It’s the new 66 – or the new 86 – I can’t remember how it goes. I am in good health considering the abuse I have inflicted on myself. I have the diseases that old people are supposed to have: uncertain ankles, wobbly knees, and a hip that doesn’t want to be a hip anymore. I also have various issues with various fabrics that we don’t need to enter here. I am getting old. This is what is expected. Of course, I don’t know my exact end date yet – but it’s certainly approaching – it’s closer to me than I remember.

So, it is time for me to carefully look forward: it is time to take responsibility for my death. I will make some plans so that the loved ones I leave behind can proceed with any plan. I’m going to make lists for Jill, my wonderful wife. Bank accounts, insurance policies, retirement plans, household expenses, car rentals: I’ll leave you with clear instructions. The only problem is that Jill never reads the instructions. She prefers to dive in and drop the chips where they can. That’s what they do, of course. Fall, that is. Where they can. Well. What I’m going to do before I die is give him a face-to-face lesson on the three remotes that control the television because they are impenetrable. Our children will help him. They will help him get back on track.

I had a lesson on the death of a dear friend of mine last year, the legendary actor René Auberjonois. He was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and given a year to live, more or less. He called us to give us the news. I got very emotional on the phone.

“We didn’t die before we died, René. Remember that, ”I said to him – and to myself – of course. “We are not dying in increments. We are alive until we are not. So your responsibility to your wife, your children, and their children – and to yourself – is to live. And then, after you die, you won’t have to worry about it anymore.


He, of course, knew all of this. René and his wife Judith traveled to Ireland with their children and grandchildren. Her sister and her family live there – on a beautiful Irish farm – and they all embarked on this adventure together. Then René and Judith went to Buenos Aires, where they had never been, and learned the tango. One of his prodigious talents was photography and he sent me a picture he painted by hand of tango dancers in Buenos Aires. And on the reverse, he cited the Canadian singer-songwriter, musician, poet and novelist. Leonard cohen:

“Dance me through the panic until I’m safely gathered

Lift me up like an olive branch and be my dove back

Dance me to the end of love.

In addition to his great acting skills, René was a formidable artist, a sculptor, a painter, a photographer. Every breath he took was creative. He couldn’t help it.

And since he lived in California, where unlike Connecticut, assisted dying is an option for terminally ill adults to die peacefully, it created a beautiful death for him and his family. In his final weeks, he combed through nearly 60 years of photographs and put together a slideshow for the family. They gathered at his bedside and watched the story of their lives together, with the music of The Beatles blasting happily. It took hours to see everything. They laughed, they danced, they hugged, they cried. It was like life. And then, with everyone gathered, he took his assisted dying medicine and died peacefully a very loving death. One of the last things he said was a thank you to the State of California for allowing him to die with the option of how it would be. He died as he lived: as an artist.

I have no idea how or when I’m going to die. It could happen suddenly and unexpectedly, in which case my end-of-life care options will not be an issue. But I do know that while my state of Connecticut passed a recently introduced bill (HB 6425) which guarantees the end-of-life care option of physician-assisted dying, so my life will be better now. And now that is really what it is.


Michael tucker

is an author, Broadway and television actor who lives in Easton with his wife, actress Jill Eikenberry.

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