Saturday, November 1, 2008

The story of James & Betty

This is a true story. It happened just last month.

There is a couple named James and Betty, they lived in a little cottage down by the beach. It seemed to me they lived here forever. Well, I think it was about 50 years... so in a way it was.

If you were to take a walk on the beach or through the neighboring salt marsh, you would probably seeing James and Betty out too, walking hand in hand, sometimes stopping to watch the waves or the birds and wildlife. Then, about five years ago ,Betty started showing signs of dementia. Eventually it became full blown Alzheimer's disease and Becky began failing to recognize family members, including her own husband of 64 years.

So one night in September, 84 year old James tried to kill himself and his wife via carbon monoxide poisoning that he piped into his home through a hose connected to an Oldsmobile idling in his driveway. His plan to die peacefully beside his wife of 64 years was interrupted by a neighbor who was walking his dog and noticed the pipe running into the residence.

James admitted that he intended to kill his wife and prosecutors sought to keep James in jail on a $ 1- million bond. A superior court judge said the case called for compassion and set bail at $ 100,000.

The couple were extraordinarily close, and James was his wife's primary caregiver as she descended into dementia over the past four years.

James plead no contest to a count of attempted murder, and the charge of elder abuse was dropped. Betty is now residing permanently in a nursing home, from all appearances, out of harm's way.

James spoke of "the crucial night" as resulting from compassion for his wife and his desire to prevent their separation.

The defense said it will push for probation due to lack of a criminal record and the unusual circumstances of the case. But the deputy district attorney said James could still face severe punishment at his sentencing, set for early January. An attempted murder conviction could bring anything from probation to life in prison.

James will undergo a psychiatric evaluation before sentencing and will be watched closely to be sure he follows his bail terms, which include no driving and no unsupervised contact with his wife.

He recently made a visit to see Betty, with his children as monitors.

He sang to her.

She hummed along.

Last week at our Anniversary dinner, my husband and I decided that if we are ever to find ourselves in similar circumstances, we should have a plan. It is heartbreaking any way you look at it, to surrender lives, or to be separated after a lifetime of companionship, bestfriendship. The only state in the U.S. where physician assisted suicide is legal is Oregon, called the Death with Dignity Act. I know that this is a highly emotional subject, one where there is just no easy answer.

Except, i think James and his wife should be together. In whatever capacity they decide. What are your thoughts about this?

xx lori


  1. Oh Lori - what a sad, sad story. I think that ultimately, we should be able to decide our own fate & that in this instance, James & Betty should be together - however they decide.

  2. lynda, i agree with you. It is heartbreaking. Now the contents of their home are being sold off to pay for Bettys care.It's such a mess.

  3. Well, it made me cry...

    Stupied neighbour, if you see this and you know the persons and the background, you don't have to "play" a hero.
    Of course, I believe everything has a meaning in life, but our own decisions are a puzzle piece of that,too. Or? So, they had their very long long life together in love, why not going together? I mean, they're not young teenagers who don't know what's going on in life. People should go on the street to support James...

  4. mecamo, you made a couple of good points, We don't know who discovered the pipe and/or if they knew the situation.I think though that if you didn't know and you came across something like this, your response would be to help. I agree with you that James needs the towns support. He is getting that. Thank you for your comment, now I will go and see your place.

  5. What a sad and tragic story, Lori. I'm on James' side in this - they've lived a long and good life, he clearly had thought long and hard about what he wanted to do, I think they should be allowed to be together and to leave with grace, if that's their choice. Anything else shows a remarkable lack of insight and compassion.

    Each soul works its own journey, who is to say what is right or wrong for any particular soul, soul lesson are particular to the individual - we forget that. We are far too arrogant, far too often.

  6. Lori, what a judge is that?! I agree with Lynda and want to decide my own fate. There is a big discussion in Germany about "dying help" (in Holland this is legal under certain circumstances)if you write it down as a will. I think it is cruel to treat a couple as your neighbours are being treated. Can`t you bring it in the media??

  7. av,you are so right, beautifully put, this could apply to so many situations..

    angela,on a sad note welcome back!, this story is on my mind so much lately.It is in the news,probably by now all over the U.S. It was reported that my entire town was deserted because almost every citizen turned out for his hearing. The courtroom was overflowing. I don't know what kind of judge would sentence this man.I'm praying for a compassionate one.


  8. How desperately sad for James and Betty. We really do have to look at quality of life not quantity when one of the people is suffering such a terrible illness and all James was doing was trying to end their time with dignity.
    I hope the judge can have more compassion in January

  9. What a sad story. I dont know how a judge could sentence James. And as if charges werent enough, the whole thing is made even worse now by their enforced separation. That is saddest of all.

  10. It is very sad that we humans face this dilemma in life. One way or another, James and Betty will be together always. I think it is our right to choose. But unfortunately, it never will be. No one has a right to play God but in circumstances like these, leniancy should be given.

    CJ xx

  11. fire byrd, it's true, quality of life when suffering.None of it makes any sense to me.

    suzysoo, so sad and so unfair, we're all hopeing for a judge who sees it this way.

    crystal jigsaw, I think the same thing, together always. James must have felt this too,wanting to leave this life with his wife. I am hopeing that the law will change, that we will adopt Oregons attitude and take it more by individual circumstance. Its still not perfect, but its a step in the right direction.

    thank you for all your comments.
    xxx lori

  12. Lori I think that James should be viewed in a compassionate light by the judge, what's the point of sentencing him? Poor James & Betty.

    On a different note, good luck for today, we'll be watching in our house!

  13. yes, its not good anyway you look at it, my heart goes out to them and their children.
    we are anxiously waiting...
    thanks for the support, and the comment btm.


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xoxo lori