Setting Their Own Path
Elaine Spence contacted Compassion & Choices’ End-of-Life Consultation (EOLC) Program in 2010 for her father. Elaine’s parents, Armond and Dorothy Rudolph, were advanced in age and suffered from multiple medical conditions.
With information from an EOLC counselor the Rudolphs chose to stop eating and drinking, an option known as VSED, which is legal in every state. With the support of loved ones the Rudolphs were able to achieve the peaceful death they sought. They encountered bureaucratic resistance, but setting their own path was a lifelong habit, and they prevailed.
After Armond and Dorothy’s deaths, Neil and his sister Elaine offered to share their parents’ experience. Theirs is a story of self-reliance and independent thinking.
Elaine: “I think we were extremely blessed to be raised by a father and mother who had really thought through how best to raise children: by talking, guiding, questioning, example and doing things together. They gave me a deep love for God, family, music, growing a garden and sewing. They stressed telling the truth and were always truthful to us. By showing us that every human being was a child of God, we learned to treat them as such.”
Armond’s memoir paints a picture of self-sufficiency and individualism:
Armond: “I was born at home in Detroit. That’s the way it was done in those days. I was born on the 19th of January in 1918, and my mother said it was 19 below zero. We had a little old coal-fired base burner to heat the house. There was no plumbing in the house; no running water. We had to carry the water in a little red wagon from a farmhouse that was about a quarter of a mile away.
In those days there was so little outside of the home and family to do. And there wasn’t money to do anything. So a family was a complete unit. We had home club every Monday night. All the kids would get together, and we would put on a show. There were tumbling acts, and Dad would get down with them and pick them up and throw them around. The older boys would recite things from schoolwork. Mom would have popcorn and apples. We had a great time. Later I did this to a degree with my own family, only we did it on Saturday night.”
Armond learned boxing, debate and to think for himself.
Armond: “Whenever a subject in school came up, I would look at it and try to figure out what was wrong with it, not accept it as a whole. Education, particularly in the first years, consists of the teacher jamming something down your throat. If you can’t let it sink in, then you are not educated. So I had problems with a lot of teachers that way. I learned that the education system, in fact the world, was not tailored to my needs.”
Dorothy was born September 28, 1920, in Flint, Michigan.
Dorothy: “The day I was three years old, we moved into our house on Stockdale Street. That was considered a big, nice home in those days. The kitchen had a wooden floor that had to be scrubbed all the time.”
Her father set an example of independence. Like Armond, she learned early to stand up for herself.
Dorothy: “Dad was always trying to get more money to help out all of his family. Although I was the only child, there were always a lot of mouths to feed. He started a little store inside the Buick Motor Company. He sold tobacco, milk, sandwiches and candy bars. He would open it up before work, at lunch, and then after work. He made a little extra that way.”
Dorothy and Armond met through the Baptist Young People’s Union and were married in Flint, Michigan in 1941. Dorothy completed a two-year accounting program and went to work for General Motors as an accounting clerk. Armond became a printer, fought for a union and became a conscientious objector in World War II. She was a lifelong liberal Republican; he was a Democrat.
The couple moved to New Mexico in 1949 when Armond took a job as a commercial printer. In 2006, Armond took stock of his life.
Armond: “I am 87 years old. I have already lived the major part of my life on earth, by a large margin. I have enjoyed it all, good, bad and indifferent. I have really enjoyed living with my love, Dorothy, and also my children, Neil and Elaine, and their children. I have been honored to be able to see great-grandchildren. I still enjoy life and intend to live it until the time for me to go. I will welcome that time when it comes.”
In the autumn of 2010, Armond and Dorothy moved to an assisted-living facility in Albuquerque. Armond had spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spine that causes severe pain. Dorothy had lost mobility, and both were facing the onset of dementia. Armond, at 92, and Dorothy, 90, did not want to lose their independence, die in a hospital or lie tethered to tubes and machines.
They discussed their decision to stop eating and drinking with their children, and on January 3, 2011, both signed written statements attesting to their decision. They entered hospice care and shared their intention with the staff at the assisted-living facility.
Unfortunately, the facility’s manager, perhaps out of fear or misunderstanding, was directed to evict the couple in 24 hours, and later called 911 and reported the couple was attempting suicide. According to emergency personnel, the manager requested that they be transported to a medical facility.
Paramedics consulted with a physician, who found no medical reason to force the Rudolphs to leave and recommended they be allowed to stay in their apartment.
The facility management then gave Armond and Dorothy a written notice stating: “The purpose of this correspondence is to notify you the Village at Alameda wishes to terminate the above referenced agreement,” referring to the residential lease agreement. The Rudolphs, both in their 90s, had to abandon their home.
Throughout their lives Armond and Dorothy faced adversity, hostile authority, and the reality that their choices were not always conventional. When faced with the same in death, they were resolute. Neil and Elaine helped their parents rent a new home and move. The Rudolphs continued their fast.
In their new home, surrounded by their children, they were able to cross the threshold to death as they wished. They fasted until their deaths, within 24 hours of each other: Armond on January 13 and Dorothy on January 14, 2011. Their family is dedicated to protecting others and is working with Compassion & Choices’ communications team to prevent elders from getting caught in assisted-living facilities that would obstruct legal end-of-life choices.