David's story: How my mother's desperate decision led me to support Dying With Dignity Canada

One year ago, on an early Sunday morning, David J. Adams’ mother made a desperate decision in the hopes of ending her unbearable suffering. It shouldn’t have had to come to that, and that’s why Canadians need Dying With Dignity Canada, he writes.

My mom was born in a small town in northern Alberta and grew up in the Depression era on the Canadian Prairies. My mom might remind you of your mom or the millions of other women of her era who are now seniors in their '70s, '80s, and '90s.

Mom loved playing bridge, enjoying the company of her circle of friends, and of course spending time with her sons and family. It was a simple life she expressly wanted.

David Adams' mother, Marie Winnifred Christian, received her nursing degree from the University of Alberta.

For years, our mom also suffered from chronic pain, arthritis, and bone degeneration. In 2014, she had open heart surgery and described the experience of having her chest broken open as less painful than the degeneration of the disks in her lower back.

Over her last months, mom’s unremitting chronic pain grew worse. She now suffered bone-on-bone pain in her left shoulder, and as a result, had difficulties manoeuvring her walker. Mom had to literally choose between going for a walk, which would further damage her shoulders, and remaining sedentary in her apartment.

In January 2016, mom suffered a bleed in her eye, which when coupled with the damage from macular degeneration, left her partially blind and unable to read, watch TV, or play bridge.

Feeling helpless as to next steps, mom was admitted to emergency. While in hospital, she was also diagnosed with an early stage cognitive impairment — quite likely Alzheimer’s.

Marie and David on his wedding day in 2004.

Despite the worst of the situation, my mom had a sparkle in her eye and a genuine smile. On Friday, April 29, the hospital discharged mom. That night, our mom shared how much she had enjoyed the conversations she had had with fellow patients. Mom expressed an appreciation for life and living. She then went on to say, “...and I’m so tired.” Mom loved life, but the pain was overwhelming her.

Mom was scared. She was terrified about what more was going to happen to her health.

On the morning of Sunday, May 1st, our mom went out onto her eighth floor balcony, climbed onto the ledge, and fell back. Her cane was found by the chair upon which she had crawled.

Mom survived the fall. She suffered multiple bone and spinal fractures with no internal damage. Mom was faced with hours of surgeries. If she survived the operations and the associated infections and complications, mom would have had to endure months, if not years, of rehab. Her prognosis of ever leaving the hospital was zero.

Mom was conscious, and when presented with her situation, chose to forgo the operations. She entered palliative care with just hours or days to live.

And so it was.

Her three children were there with her, all together for the first time in nine years. Family and friends gathered around, bringing food and song, stories and laughter. My mom was able to say goodbye and so too were family and friends. I do not believe one falls eight stories and survives without divine intervention. The time to be with my mom was a miracle in so many ways. It was a moment of mercy and grace. 

Our mom died at 9:55 p.m. on May 3rd, 2016.

We all need Dying with Dignity Canada.

The violence of mom’s death is incomprehensible. The desperation was needless and intolerable. My mom didn’t know about Dying With Dignity Canada (DWDC) or their Personal Support program. Had we known about DWDC’s Advance Care Planning Kits, mom could have planned her end of life in a way that would have brought kindness and compassion to her intolerable situation. As hard as this may be to hear, DWDC exists so that loved ones — parents, aunts, brothers, friends — do not have to jump off buildings to end unbearable pain and suffering.

The Carter family, who were plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case, has called Bill C-14 "a betrayal.” In its current form, Bill C-14 would not have allowed mom access to medical assistance in dying. Despite mom’s intolerable pain, at no point prior to her fall was her death “reasonably foreseeable.” After all that happened in the days, weeks, and months leading up to her attempted suicide, the last thing our mom would have needed would have been to have to prove her eligibility. For all those you love and care about, please commit to changing this ruling. DWDC, the national leader in advocating for a better law, exists to protect your right to access assistance in dying, if and when you need it.

Simply put, your participation right now is critical. We need each other.

More than ever, we must support the critical work of Dying with Dignity Canada. We must guarantee that it has the resources to advocate on our behalf.

I am personally pledging $25 a month to Dying with Dignity Canada. Will you match my pledge? My contribution along with yours will help guarantee that we can access the best possible end-of-life care when we need it — one that is full of dignity, compassion, and love.

David J. Adams is the Chief Experience Officer at Graceful Guerrillas, a business consultant, and a bestselling children’s book author.