My mother’s mother taught me a song she’d learned in a street demonstration in 1912. It goes like this:

TRAMP, TRAMP, TRAMP we are the TAFT-ites

Marching on to vic-TORY!

By Bill Taft we are LED, and we’re sure to be a-HEAD

on ELECTION DAY tomorrow, you will see!

Yes, my grandmother, Lydia Bullard Weston, of New Bedford, Massachusetts, was a Republican, and remained one until she died at the age of 96. She would have been too young to vote to re-elect President William Howard Taft in the three-way 1912 election won by Woodrow Wilson, but even if she had been of age, it wouldn’t have mattered because women couldn’t vote back then, no matter how much tramping they did.

That didn’t change until 1920, when she went to the polls to vote for Warren G. Harding, and she continued to vote for every Republican candidate on the ballot for the next seven decades.

Grandma lived past my 30th birthday, so I was lucky enough to really get to know her, and I think about her all the time. But this past week a couple of news items – one from the past and the other about the future – bring her memory front and center.

The first was the 100th anniversary of Congress passing the 19th Amendment, starting the process that gave women the vote. The second was the Maine Legislature’s approval of the Death with Dignity Act, needing only Gov. Mills’ signature to become law. I can say with great confidence what what my grandmother would have wanted her to do: Sign the bill.

I haven’t met many people who took the right to vote more seriously than my grandmother.

She never missed an election, and studied the newspaper to inform herself about the candidates. She proudly voted against Franklin D. Roosevelt four times, and lived long enough to squeeze in a vote against Bill Clinton, a man she detested long before the world learned about Monica Lewinsky. Her favorite president, for the record, was Gerald Ford, who she found charming.

Living as long as she did, she also spent a lot of time thinking about her own death, and it bothered her. For one thing, she hated to waste anything, and she didn’t trust her family to drive a hard bargain with the undertaker when she was gone. So she shopped around and prepaid her funeral.

It wasn’t just the cost. She saw so many people she loved die and hated the idea of being “kept alive on machines” when her natural life was over. When living wills became a thing in the 1970s, my grandmother filled hers out and distributed copies to anyone who might be in a position to speak for her. There were Xeroxed copies all around the house, in case you forgot what she wanted.

She was a woman of strong opinions, and she was not afraid of letting you know what they were. It’s unthinkable to me that she grew up in a society that would have excluded her from the political process. It seems equally wrong to suggest that someone like that would be denied the right to decide how long and under what conditions she should live.

The prospect of an undignified death, or anything undignified, troubled her. Everything about the law that’s on Mills’ desk would have appealed to her sense of independence and responsibility.

More than once she told me, “If I get a stroke, I want a big one that will kill me dead, not those little ones that keep you around when you can’t do anything.”

If the Death with Dignity statute had been in effect, it wouldn’t have made a material difference for Grandma. It’s an option only for people who have less than six months to live, and she never got a diagnosis like that. Some small strokes, a coronary embolism and a worn-out body did the trick. The hospital staff was ready to ignore her living will, but luckily my sister was in the room and made sure they understood Grandma’s directions (so all that Xeroxing paid off).

But I have to think that knowing that she would have some control if her situation became hopeless would have eased the worrying that nettled her in her last years.

As an old-fashioned Republican, she didn’t want a heartless bureaucracy to rob her of the ability to make her own decisions about things that concerned only her.

It’s time for the state of Maine to let everyone know that it won’t stand in the way of people who want a vote in how their lives will come to an end.

 

Greg Kesich is editorial page editor for the Portland Press Herald. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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