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Photo: Courtesy of Zoe FitzGerald Carter
PAGE 3
I smile, concede. I haven't seen my mother this chipper in a while. "Well, I hope you came up with a worthy document."

"My problems are actually pretty impressive, you know."

It's true. My mother has congestive heart failure, asthma, chronic pulmonary disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, and low blood pressure, which causes her to occasionally and unexpectedly pass out. But Parkinson's is still the biggie, and there's no question it's getting worse. Several times she experienced brain logjams that rendered her temporarily speechless and has recently begun experiencing bouts of dyskinesia in the form of uncontrolled writhing, indicating that her Parkinson's is advancing and it's harder for her meds to control it.

"I do know. It's amazing you're still around."

"Right. Well, of course, that's the problem."

It was last June when my mother and I had gone to see Dr. Harmon, a local psychiatrist and prominent member of the assisted-suicide movement; someone had suggested she consult with him to find out if she was a good candidate for "self-deliverance," as Hemlock Society founder Derek Humphry calls it. I agreed to go with her, although the idea of my mother committing suicide was pretty theoretical back then, kind of like our yearly disaster drills in Northern California meant to prepare us for the "Big One."

Driving to Dr. Harmon's office on a tree-lined street near Dupont Circle, I could see she was nervous. She hates public speaking and likes to prepare herself before meetings and even phone calls. I had more than once found cryptic comments like "ask why angry" with one of our initials next to them on her calendar.

"Don't worry, he's going to love you," I whispered as we walked up the path to Dr. Harmon's pretty, white-shingled house. "Just be your normal charming self."

"Thanks," she said, drily, clutching my arm. "If only it were that easy."

We were almost at the top of the stairs when a woman in somber, nondescript clothes and an old-fashioned bouffant hairdo came through the door. I pegged her as a retired government secretary or administrator. She hurried by without looking at us, leaving a palpable cloud of melancholy in her wake.

A tall, white-haired man appeared and waved us into a large, comfortable room. "So," he said, smiling at both of us. "Why don't you tell me why you're here?"

My mother's jeans-covered knees did a little dance at the edge of the sofa, where she perched, looking precarious and uncomfortable. It took several throat clearings before she said, "I wanted to talk to you about ending my life. Or at least having the option to end it."

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