A hospice nurse rushed in immediately. She took off the mask as my brother, Chester, and sister, Yolanda, placed dad's withered right hand on his forehead, chest and shoulders to make a sign of the cross during a final '"Our Father'" prayer.
Dad took his last breath that day at 3 p.m., seconds after we kissed him and whispered in his ear that mom, his wife of 65 years and our oldest brother, Victor, were waiting for him in heaven.
OPINION: The crisis in elder care
One of the common myths about comfort/palliative care is that patients are denied all medical treatment. In my parents' case, it meant declining the use of breathing machines or ventilators but receiving morphine to ease their shortness of breath and medications to remove excessive fluid from their lungs.
Bush's decision to stop further medical treatment to focus on comfort care coincidentally occurred during the annual National Healthcare Decisions Month in April. As a result, it is an opportune time for Americans to honor her memory by talking with their doctors and loved ones about end-of-life care options and how to prepare for the inevitability of death.
It is no secret that Latinos often avoid conversation about end-of-life care. Ironically, Latinos often experience the highest rates of life-threatening illnesses, yet we are the least likely to complete advance directives or discuss if we want to receive medical interventions to prolong life or an agonizing dying process. However, we can address these disparities by communicating with our doctors and loved ones about if we become too sick to speak for ourselves.
End-of-life care options
Doctors, nurses, social workers and chaplains can give a terminally person recommendations and options for a care plan. However, only the dying person, in consultation with their family and other loved ones, is the one who should decide what treatments they want, if any, and the way they want to live their last moments.
If we have six months or less to live, we have the option to choose hospice and palliative care to maximize the quality of life we have left and decline futile "curative" medical care that might only extend our dying process.
California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, the District of Columbia and Hawaii allow an additional end-of-life care option for mentally capable individuals with a terminal illness and a prognosis of six months or less to live. They can request a doctor's prescription for medication to peacefully end their suffering when hospice and palliative care cannot provide relief. One day, I hope we can authorize this option, also called physician-assisted suicide, of medical aid in dying to peacefully end intolerable suffering in my home state of Texas.
Patricia A. González-Portillo is a former journalist for The Brownsville [Texas] Herald, The [Riverside, CA] Press-Enterprise and La Opinión [Los Angeles], Currently, she is the national Latino Communications and Constituency Director at Compassion & Choices CompassionAndChoices.org.