Art of Dying Volume One | Page 71

Alan Alberts is a harbinger of our culture’s changing relationship with death and dying. He chose elective death through Voluntarily Stopping Eating and Drinking (VSED) rather than suffering the disassociated life of Alzheimer’s. His wife, Phyllis Shacter, intimately participated in Alan’s death. Together, they embody the emerging paradigm of couples, families and friends embracing individual death as a shared experience through which all, the living and the dead, are united in a heightened awareness of life, love and one another. In this first of two articles, Phyllis tells Alan’s story through conversations they held until Alzheimer’s silenced his voice. In our next volume, we will continue with Phyllis’ assimilation of her experience; and her emergence from grief as a renowned advocate for VSED. “ All beliefs are limiting. If you change your beliefs, you can change your life. This is a story about how I fundamentally changed my beliefs to heal the fear of dying. Love is the meaning of life. ALAN ALBERTS Phyllis: After the diagnosis, Alan and I went into Alzheimer's denial. We didn't talk about it. When Alzheimer's became unmistakably evident, We held one another and cried for a week. Soon after, we began our conversation about dying. Alan’s mother died after suffering Alzheimer’s for ten years. He did not want to die in self-oblivion. We thought very seriously about using the Death with Dignity prescription1 but doing so for Alzheimer's would have made me an accomplice to murder. Alan had the Death With Dignity prescription from a previous bout with cancer. The notion of Alan being here and then being gone in ten minutes was horrifying. I couldn't imagine being able to withstand that kind of shock. I needed support. I contacted End of Life Washington. A counselor introduced me to VSED. I downloaded and printed an article on VSED by Thaddeus Pope and Lindsay Anderson.2 After reading the article Alan said, "I've decided this is what I am going to do. I am going to VSED.” This was six months before his death. I told Alan on two occasions that I regretted we could not use the Death with Dignity prescription. Both times he said, "I want to have an organic, conscious death.” He wanted his body to break down as it happens during a normal death, as opposed to a sudden death. VOLUME I | 71