The Quality of Mercy by D. M. Pirrone

Diane Piron-Gelma p]hoto

“It wasn’t supposed to be this way,” Sarah said.

The breeze that ruffled her hair smelled of lilacs and cut grass. The gardeners must have gotten here early. At the edge of her field of vision, a scattering of fresh earth made a dark smudge amid the green. A flicker of movement from the same spot caught her eye—hold your horses, she thought—but mostly she ignored it.

“I didn’t think they’d find out. You didn’t think so, either. But you can’t hide the truth, not forever.” She gave a small laugh, more air than mirth. “I should have known.”

Sarah fell silent. The silence weighed on her, as it had ever since that day. The absence of another person’s sounds in her little house: the shuffling footfall, the creak of bedsprings, the occasional thin-voiced call in the middle of the night. She’d gotten used to them, found now that she missed them. She hadn’t thought of that, not before.

In front of her, the gray stone slab stood mute guard over mounded grass. He wasn’t really here, Sarah knew that, but it was as close as she could get. “Anyway—,” she said. It was harder to talk now, knowing the end was coming, knowing she wouldn’t have even this much for a long time. Knowing they were waiting for her to finish. Her throat ached and her eyes stung, but she had a thing to say still.

“Anyway, I forgive you.” Her voice rasped. “For asking of me what shouldn’t be asked. For knowing I would do it. For…” A tear worked its way down her cheek; she brushed it away and kept talking. “For being the kind of father who’d do anything for me, no matter what the cost. How could I be less for you when you needed it?”

She laid a hand against the gravestone and fancied for a moment that the warmth from the sun that had soaked into it was something more. A silent benediction, ego te absolvo. Sarah turned and walked toward the two cops who waited by a mausoleum not far away.

“I’m ready now,” she said.

The younger one, the sympathetic one, took her arm. His mother had myeloma, she recalled from their first conversation. Maybe that accounted for it. His arm gave her gentle support.

They left the cemetery, a cop on either side. Already she was counting the years’ worth of days that would pass before she could return.

Author: D. M. Pirrone writes mystery and fantasy-horror. You can visit her website at

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28 thoughts on “The Quality of Mercy by D. M. Pirrone

  1. Kenneth Weene

    When my mother was dying, she asked my permission to “go home.” I willingly gave it, but I don’t know if I would have been willing to commit the act. Now, as I get older, I cannot understand why our society doesn’t allow people the means to end their own aging and deterioration. This story hit home.

  2. Trish Jackson

    A very thought-provoking post. I absolutely agree with Ken. Those who have the courage to help their loved ones out of a lingering half-life of misery should not be penalized.

  3. Linda Hales

    I don’t know what I admire most. Is it the courage to deliver a loved one who needs to go or the resolve to live with the deed forever more. I only know that I have faced these prospects in my life time on more than one occasion but fortunately for me, my loved ones had no intention of letting go.

    This is a superb piece of writing Diane. In fact, I’ve rarely seen anything better.

  4. E. J. Ruek

    A very poignant and oh-so-superbly written piece, and that’s a high compliment, coming as it is, from me.

    Giving release to them who suffer and desire such release is, in my opinion, a saintly act. It is short-sighted, on one hand, that we forbid this kindness for our fellow human beings, yet begrudge not and even celebrate death to other humans in the name of vengeance, empire-building, or ideological conflicts.

    Of course, the down-side is that there would be abuses, and those abuses are very hard against which to legislate prior to the act. Perhaps a panel of disinterested witnesses after a due course of professional evaluation and consultation would work. It’s hard to think through enough to cover all contingencies. Still, compassion requires us to think upon it, in my opinion, and to hell with those who believe it their right, due to their theology, to deny it.

  5. Marta Merajver-Kurlat

    This piece hit home. Diane has the wonderful gift of letting the reader into the facts while skirting unpalatable details. The controversial issue she presents calls for deep reflection on the part of those who think we should bow to intolerable suffering or to a vegetative life in the name of “fate” under its different masks. It’s practically impossible to avoid personal involvement in the face of the situation she depicts. I had to make a decision once, and can live with it. I ask no less of my beloved ones.

  6. Diane Piron-Gelman

    Thank you all for your thoughtful comments. I was lucky not to have to make the choice Sarah faces in the story when my father was dying of cancer, first multiple myeloma and then leukemia; he wanted to stick around in spite of it all, and was actually in fairly good shape for most of the time up until the final couple of weeks (when he went downhill very rapidly). But when he first got sick, he had the courage to forthrightly ask his doctor what quality of life he faced with chemo, versus how long he was likely to live with or without it. That impressed me–and after he left us last December, it percolated in my mind until I had the idea for this story.

    The question of what is and is not mercy–or the right thing to do–in circumstances like this isn’t an easy one. But I agree it’s something we should face.

  7. Micki Peluso

    Diane, this is an extraordinary pice of writing, topic aside. Like Ken, this piece touches me since It was me who told my dying 14-year-old daughter as she lay in a semi-coma that it was okay to go Home. She would have held on forever for me-with nothing working except eyes, ears and a bright mind. Once given permission, she stopped fighting to live a non-life and died the next day. I still ponder if I had the right to do what I did.

  8. Clayton Bye

    I have had to say goodbye to a couple of people who seemed to be clinging to life. I watched them waste away, not knowing what to do. Each could be on her deathbed, but when friends and family arrived, they would climb back up from their pain to visit with the people who had come to see them. Then, once the visitors had left, each would plummet to their real state here on earth. In both instances there came a moment when I realized they were not behaving this way because they enjoyed the company but because they believed such behaviour was expected of them. So I leaned in close took a hand and said “It’s okay. You can let go now.

    I didn’t believe it the first time. After I told the first person it was okay to let go, she passed within half a day. The second lady, perhaps a little more used to hardship, waited for a day and one half before passing on. I’ve since learned that many people have had this experience. And my question is this: why did these people have to wait so long and suffer so much. if someone is ready to leave this world, then they should be allowed to go, with dignity and under the care of a professional.

    Diane, stories like yours are important, as they get us thinking about the topic, even discussing it. Thank you for your effort.

  9. Cynthia B Ainsworthe

    Such a touching and well-written article about a subject we all may face some day. I had to give my permission to both my parents to “say good-bye” and “It’s okay to go home.” This was difficult for me. I wanted to keep them in my life in a physical form, but knew release from their suffering was the last gift I could give them; to release them from the fight to go on one more minute. Dad passed in 1984 and Mom in 2000. There isn’t day that I don’t think of them.

    1. Diane Piron-Gelman

      Cynthia, and all who’ve spoken of giving their loved ones permission to let go: I did that at the very end for my father, and for my mother-in-law a year before that. My mother-in-law hung on just long enough to see her youngest son, my husband’s brother, one final time (they live in DC, so he had to fly into Chicago). Within 48 hours of his coming by, she was gone. In both cases, for me and my husband to say goodbye was incredibly difficult.

      This sense that our loved ones are often struggling to stay because of us, and need us to tell them it’s okay to let go, seems to be a common experience. Hard as it was to go through, I found it a relief in a way as well.

  10. James L. Secor

    The professional side of this: superhuman life saving efforts. My mother told me, 9 months before she died (uterine cancer that ate her up), that she wanted no more superhuman lifesaving efforts; she’d had several. She said it was exhausting. So, she signed papers that she was to be put in the corner and allowed to die the next time she “went out,” as she put it. Now, we have the opportunity for these patient directives–but only in a hospital. We have nothing to protect those who end the pain and suffering of another outside the medical kingdom. And society does not honor the pain and suffering of that person, only the memory of the dead.
    How many of us are or were trained and certified in CPR? (superhuman lifesaving)

  11. Kenneth Weene

    Following up on James’s comment, unless they have the paperwork done just right, the patient’s end of life directives are are often ignored.

    For example and your personal information: you must have your photo on them, have them witnessed by a health professional, have them on orange paper – yes orange. If they are in your home when the EMS ambulance arrives, they must be hanging in plain sight. Your spouse cannot go find them. Every effort is made to get those living bodies to the hospital so the medical procedures can go forward. Is it the sanctity of life or the sanctity of racking up charges?

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  13. Delinda

    These are tough questions. I had an aunt who was helped on her way by a caregiver long before she was ready to go, but she was wealthy and others thought they saw a way to enrich themselves. For this reason I’d be very careful about who can do what and how the decision is made.

    At another time, Like Micki, we gave our mom permission to go whenever she was ready. She spent several months with her mind wandering in her past before she was ready to go. I think despite the fact that she’d been in hospice care for months she had more mental work to do before she could leave.

  14. AFord

    A sensitive, touching piece indeed. Life is so unpredictable, even unfair at times, especially when one is confronted by decisions where even “a rock and a hard place” would seem better choices.

    An excellent piece of writing btw–Cheers!

  15. Sharla

    Diane, great writing on a subject that is difficult for anyone. I have faced it twice. First was my mom. It was breaking my heart to see her in her last stages of life with so much suffering. As I gently stroked her fingers and whispered to her that it was okay to go Home, Daddy was waiting and I would be alright, she took her last breath and a peace surrounded her. I am glad I did not face an inevitable decision had she clung to remaining life.

    The second was just recently with my husband. He was on life support and totally unresponsive. Doctors had given us little hope other than by way of a miracle that he would live. On the day I was approached for a decision, I could not let go. Now, after 91 days he is home and evidence of a true miracle!

  16. Linda Hales

    Giving permission to go seems the humane thing to do when it is clearly being asked but assisting is quite another matter. About two weeks before my daughter’s passing,, it was clear that she was tired of fighting the good fight. At one point, when she had my undivided attention, she looked at me with love in her eyes and said, “I’m ready now Mom.” My response was automatic. “It’s okay sweetheart, you go whenever you’re ready. I love you and I understand.” Could I have physically assisted her? I honestly do not think so. On the other hand, perhaps my permission was all the assistance she needed. It is such a personal matter.

  17. Martha Love

    This is a beautifully written and provocative piece, Dianne. I have not been in the tough position you write about and hope never to be as I really have no idea what I would do. Maybe you really can not know how you would respond to such a request from a loved one until you are there in it personally.

  18. Harmlessjoyce (Joyce Elferdink)

    Diane’s story reminds me of one of the 2013 Academy Award nominees for best picture: Amour. When friends and I saw it at a local theater, some audience members cheered when the “act of mercy” was performed, but a few walked out of theater. I guess that will always be the response to any controversial issue.
    It seems the rightness can only be measured by the level of love involved in the act. Wouldn’t justice–whether it’s social or legal justice–more consistently live up to the term if we could devise a way to measure the premeditated love of the perpetrator! Do you have any ideas for a thermostat on loving?

    1. Diane Piron-Gelman

      Joyce–Now there’s a question. As Delinda mentioned above, it’s something we have to careful about, because it can be very easy to substitute our own judgment about the dying person’s remaining quality of life for what that person really wants. That said, I really do believe it’s a situation-by-situation judgment to make. And as many people here have brought up, only the people inside it can really know what’s right.

  19. Jon Magee

    There will inevitably be different views n this controversial subject of Euthanasia, however, whatever ones view maybe i do not think any could deny that this is a well written item. thank you for sharing your work with us in this way.

  20. Rosemary "Mamie" Adkins

    Dianne, I as others do not know what I would do in this case. When my father was dying I could not tell him to let go even though I knew he wanted no part of life any longer and just the opposite happened with my mothers death.
    Though I had many reasons to see her leave a part of me wanted her with us in spite of her cruelty to others in life. I sat by her side and gave her permission to leave. She drew her last breathe shortly thereafter with my brother and I by her side.
    Ken is right about proper paperwork being displayed. She had signed a living will and though we called when she passed and they did not arrive for five minutes or so, they stripped her trying to bring her back to life as we searched for the paper work and committed what I called the most inhumane act. Our society is certainly divided on this topic and it does need to be discussed.
    Whatever the opinions of many, this was well written. Thank you for the discussion.

  21. Ian Miller

    I have seen both parents die, and neither wanted to continue. My father had pancreatic cancer, for which no cure is possible, and it is a terrible wasting way to die. At one stage, his heart stopped, so technically he was dead, but the hospital authorities managed to get it started again. When he woke up and they told him what had happened, his response was, “You silly buggers! What did you do that for?” Death was inevitable, and this was a relatively trouble-free option. I think that at this time, too much thought is given to irrelevant things, like “How I feel about it,” and nowhere near enough about what the dying person thinks. If you stop and think about it, that person has the most at stake.

  22. Bryan Murphy

    Here in Italy, discussion of people’s right to die with dignity is largely smothered by the heavy hand of the Roman Catholic Church. Even research into the alleviation of pain lags behind other technologically advanced countries. Our local Cardinal, Poletti, supposedly a moderate, has pontificated that suffering is actually good, because it “brings people closer to God”.

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