Tag Archives: Suicide

The Death of Dr. Jack Kevorkian


Dr. Jack Kevorkian and his Death Machine

It’s strange somehow to hear that Dr. Jack Kevorkian died.  It’s like hearing that Sara Lee ate cake or Les Schwab had his car repaired.  One rarely thinks that those who work in a field actually experience their work as a customer as well.   Jack Kevorkian advocated for individuals to have the right to terminate their lives with the help of a physician if both feel their quality of life is at such a low level as to make that life no longer livable.  He not only promoted this idea, but participated in physician-assisted suicides many time.  Kevorkian had guidelines for this choice; however, they were much more liberal than any state’s that has passed legislation allowing physician-assisted suicide.

My father, a pharmacist and brilliant man, agreed with Dr. Kevorkian.  After many conversations with Dad about Dr. Kevorkian and his beliefs, I know that Dad believed that if a person’s life did not meet the standards of quality he or she desired, or if an individual had a condition that would cause deterioration of his or her body or mind, the person should be able to choose death instead of suffering.  He also believed that a physician had a responsibility to assist those who could not take their own lives if the patient chose to do so.

My father had a challenge with the chemistry in his brain that caused his mental faculties to progressively diminish.  After his death, we discovered that his condition could have been remediated with medication, but my father did not want to be on that type of medication for the rest of his life.  I suspect he knew the side effects would leave him different from the person he was before.  The problem was that he had already changed dramatically, but because of his condition he could not recognize those changes.  He honestly thought he was the same person he had always been.  He was wrong.  He had become paranoid, angrier, and posed a threat to himself and others.  He made rash decisions and often spoke with vitriol when he felt slighted or ignored.  We felt we could not discuss this with most people as it would further damage my father’s reputation.   The community he served so loyally, respectfully, and compassionately over the years wanted nothing to do with my father as he grew more unpredictable and unpleasant. Our family understood their response, although it hurt us very much nonetheless.

Floyd and James Glica in the 1980s

Dad read Kevorkian’s book and learned about the options for suicide should his life take a negative turn.  In 1999, my father’s worst fears became a reality.  As his mental deterioration continued, our family decided we had to make a decision about placing him in a facility for his own safety and the safety of others.  He was trying to buy a gun to protect himself from people he was certain were trying to kill him.  No one was trying to kill my father.  No one at all.  Although we tried very hard to keep our plans from him, through an error at his physician’s office he found out.  After a great deal of planning, on July 30, 1999, my father drove to a secluded spot in the mountains around his home, put a hose from the exhaust pipe to the back of his covered truck bed, started the car, climbed into the back of his truck, and there, alone, died from carbon monoxide poisoning. I suspect Dad chose this method to die because he read that this type of death was painless and fairly quick.  In his meticulous planning, he sent a note to my mother that day telling her where he could be found. The next day, when the letter arrived in the mail at my aunt’s house where I had sent Mom to ensure her safety, Mom had the police and two of our closest friends go to the spot Dad described.  He was there, dead, no gas left in the GM truck, and his mission accomplished. He did not want to live a life that was less than he dreamed.  What Dad couldn’t see is that his death, let alone in this fashion, was not what we had dreamed either.

As Kevorkian lay in his hospital bed dying, surrounded by those he loved, listening to the classical music he so dearly enjoyed, I wonder if he thought about the lives he changed in which he may not have actively participated, but inspired nonetheless.  I wonder if he understood the anguish of the parents, spouses, children, and siblings who have to deal with the choices these individuals made.  It’s not Kevorkian’s fault certainly, but, at least in my father’s case, he played a role in my father’s choice.

In my faith tradition, suicide has spiritual consequences with which I, for one, would not choose to engage.  I recognize that not everyone agrees with me on this topic.  My father clearly did not agree.  Neither did Jack Kevorkian.  Although I’ve actively cared for people at the end stages of their lives due to cancer and other conditions, I do not claim to understand the depth of agony individuals experience at the end of protracted and savage illnesses. I can say that I understood from the outset why my father chose as he did, but it didn’t help ease the grief for us, especially for my mother.

The irony, of course, is that Kevorkian recently said that he was not ready to die yet because he still had missions to fulfill in his life.  One might contemplate whether a part of Kevorkian’s karma is dying with his life ending unfulfilled.  Perhaps for families like ours was in 1999, his unfulfilled missions are our blessing.

Plaque commemorating the site where my father died.

My Last Father’s Day with Dad


Dad

Florian Joseph "Floyd" Glica - My Dad

Not every Father’s Day turns out the way we expect.  It is especially hard when there is mental illness involved.  This story is meant to speak to the challenges of having a loving father who suffered with mental illness at the end of his life and to honor the history of a great man who loved education and awareness by telling the truth about the last part of his history.

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After years of having a productive and loving life, my father’s mental health had deteriorated, nearly imperceptibly at first, but more dramatically as time went on.

My mother called a few weeks before Father’s Day 1999 to tell me that my father was becoming more agitated and paranoid.  She said that he was afraid she was trying to kill him. My mother was seventy-six years old, had suffered several strokes by that time and was a devout Roman Catholic.  My father was a decorated World War II veteran.   Dad was suffering from what appeared to be Alzheimer’s Disease, although we were to learn long afterward that it actually was a chemical imbalance that had been diagnosed but for which he was refusing treatment.  He was so terrified, he was attempting to purchase a gun to protect himself from everyone, especially my mother.  Thankfully, the man at the hardware store realized something was terribly wrong and put up enough road blocks to prevent my father from purchasing this firearm.

Dad refused to eat what my mother would cook because of his fears.  He would store food that he purchased in the furniture.  After my mother reported to me that Dad had struck her for the first time in their forty-three year marriage, I insisted that my mother move in with my aunt several miles away.  It was clear to me that my father was losing his mind.  I knew, too, that Dad did not have the boundaries that would prevent him from taking his own life, and perhaps, in a rage, my mother’s life, as well. 

Dad finally decided to move to a veteran’s home to live out the remainder of his years in what he hoped would be peace and tranquility.  Instead of making definite plans, he basically ran away from home.   

After visiting the facility where he wanted to move, he arrived at my home on June 18, 1999, while I was at a rehearsal for a show I was music directing.    He was clearly frightened and frustrated according to my eldest daughter who called me at rehearsal after welcoming my father into our home.  I told her I would be home immediately after the practice was over.  I was dreading this unexpected visit. 

Dad and I had always had our difficulties.  I always described our relationship as two men who tended to answer the same question using the same math equation and coming up with two different answers.   It was challenging at best, at times.  Other times, we laughed uproariously together at the smallest things.

When I arrived, Dad was sound asleep after his 200 miles trek.  I called my mother to let her know he was with me and safe.  She was relieved.

The next day, Dad took me to lunch for Father’s Day at Baker’s Square Restaurant.  Our time together was strained, but I was happy to share his 38th Father’s Day with him, just the two of us.   I didn’t want there to be any tension, so we kept the conversation light.

Dad 3That all changed, however, when we arrived home.  He put some papers in front of me that I said I needed to sign saying he was in good physical and mental health.  These important papers were for the veteran’s home.  They wanted to make sure Dad was not a danger to himself or to others.

I refused to sign.  I told him that I knew he was suffering from a mental illness and that I could not, in good conscience, sign these documents.  I said that there had to be other homes that would be more appropriate for him that could care for him as he progressed through his illness.

From there the conversation grew increasingly vitriolic.  We were screaming at one another.  I understood that he was fighting for his freedom.  I, on the other hand, was fighting for his health and safety.   Our horrific battle went on for at least three hours.  Nearly forty years of unspoken animosity came tumbling out of my mouth.  His four decade long frustration with me was vomitted forth toward me.  The truth was, everything that needed to be said between us got spoken.  I was tragically sad and ultimately relieved.

At the end of our verbal journey, I said, “Dad, I know you can’t understand this right now, but I’m doing what I know is best for you.  I’m doing this because it appears you are suffering from Alzheimer’s and because I love you so much.” 

Dad didn’t really say anything.  He was too hurt to speak.  I had attacked him.  I had injured his heart.  In his mind, I was cruel beyond belief after a lifetime of love he had shown me.  He was my Dad.  He became my Dad through adoption, not birth, for which I was deeply and eternally thankful.  He and my mother gave me an amazing life.  I am, to this day, overwhelmingly grateful for that.  Sadly, there was no way he could see that gratitude in our conversation.

He went to bed that night without a word. 

By the time I got up the next morning, he was gone.  He had taken his GMC truck and driven away.  It was the last time I would see or talk with my father. 

Mom and I decided we would try to get him admitted to a locked facility.  Through a series of misunderstandings, my father found out about what we were trying to do.  Being a firm believer in Dr. Kevorkian, my father planned out and executed his own suicide through carbon monoxide poisoning in the very truck he brought to my home on that last visit.

Mother called on the last day of July 1999.  My father was dead.  I found out years later that my father shared a birthday with his mother and, eventually, his date of death, also.

After he was cremated, I placed his ashes where I knew he wanted to be buried.  No funeral.  No gravestone.  Just good drainage, for which he so often requested.  

I was alone on that hillside.  No one would stand with me as I wailed my sorrow and grief into the bright summer afternoon. 

After I finished patting down the dirt on my father’s grave, I sat on the berm near his final resting place and lit a cigarette.  Suddenly, with the clarity of the sound of a living voice, I heard my father laughing. 

“What’s so funny, Dad?” I asked out loud.

“You were right, Jim.  There is more after life,” he responded jovially.

We both laughed together because my father had been an agnostic/atheist for more than thirty years.  We had argued vehemently about God’s existence many, many times. 

I didn’t think to ask him what it was that existed beyond our living perception.  I suppose I figured I would find out for myself someday.  I just knew that, as was often the case Dad 2between us, we would argue and then laugh together.  We would scream and then smile. 

That was just our way. 

Although I still have my birth father still living, Father’s Day will never be the same since Dad took his own life.  The comfort I feel, though, is that I genuinely acted in my father’s best interest.  I tried to be the best son I knew how to be.  Perhaps in some ways I failed, but in other ways, important ways, I succeeded.  God knows my father succeeded brilliantly at being a good father.  My brother and I were always first in his mind and in his heart. 

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.  I love you.  I miss you terribly.  Dziękuję, Ta.