Liana Brittain: Dying With Dignity Canada was the lifeline I needed after my husband’s assisted death

For Liana Brittain, the days, weeks, and months after her husband, Paul, accessed his right to a peaceful death have been both painful and surreal. Unsure of where to go for support, she turned to Dying With Dignity Canada and ended up finding new purpose and life after loss.

After considerable discussion, my dear husband, Paul, who was terminally ill with cancer, made the decision to request medical assistance in dying (MAID). At that time, we could never have imagined the whirlwind journey we were about to begin.

We met with our family physician for the first of two interviews that would be conducted with two different doctors on separate occasions. A 10-day waiting period would also be part of the process, as required by law when a patient requests MAID. Dr. Matt Kutcher guided our discussion and directed our interview with great compassion and sensitivity, as he filled out the 21-page questionnaire.

Nevertheless, I was tired. I had found the interview demanding, both mentally and physically. When Paul stepped out of the office to speak to someone in the hall, Dr. Kutcher tuned to me and asked if I had ever heard of Dying with Dignity Canada. He said he thought it might be something I would find helpful.

Such a simple scene, but it was, in fact, one of those pivotal moments in life. It became a vignette, suspended in time — one that I will always remember. That question, casually asked, would create a ripple effect that would quickly grow into a life-consuming tsunami. Little did I know that my journey was about to take a turn that I could have never anticipated: one that would change me forever.

I did go home and, in a quiet moment, I googled Dying With Dignity Canada. I skimmed through the website, and the first thing that caught my eye was the Advance Care Planning Kit. Paul and I had been fortunate because the palliative care nurse had sent us a similar set of guidelines. However, I knew that this was an additional resource I could turn to, if we had the need. I found that simple fact comforting in a time when there was so much turmoil and upheaval.

"A lifeline"

Exactly two weeks later, on May 10, my husband made his transition to his new life on the other side. He did so joyously, with great strength and certainty. Once his decision had been made, it was as if a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He sang in the kitchen as he did the dishes. His steps were lighter. He laughed often. After Paul’s passing, Dr. Kutcher and I stood in the living room and he asked me if I had had an opportunity to check out Dying With Dignity Canada. I could confirm I had, but the question served as a reminder of this unique resource. I knew instinctively that this was going to be a lifeline I would need in the days to come.

A few days later, my children and granddaughter returned to Ontario. As I sat alone, in the dream home by the sea that I had shared with my soulmate, I felt overwhelmed, frightened, and consumed with grief. Memories of those next few weeks are a blur. Grief became my constant companion. My puppies licked away my tears, as I struggled with the magnitude of the loss of the love of my life.

That’s when I remembered Dying With Dignity Canada.

Out of all that sadness, I heard my husband’s last request, “Please tell our story.” He had asked Dr. Kutcher and me to use his name and medical history to educate the medical community and public at large about MAID as a possible end-of-life choice for those who are suffering and would never recover.

I saw Paul’s request as a possible avenue to bring purpose to my life, as a survivor, and a way to fulfill his wishes, so I went back to the DWDC website. I read everything they offered. When I finished, I signed up as a volunteer and left a brief account of Paul’s story. Soon afterward, I was contacted by a staff member and then my life really changed. Through the generous support and caring staff at Dying With Dignity Canada, I have been empowered to become an advocate for MAID as an end-of-life option.

Paul had asked me to make sure that his death had meaning. With the help of DWDC and Dr. Kutcher, I have been privileged to help my husband’s legacy grow. Each time I have an opportunity to share his story, I hope that others are able to find comfort, understanding and strength. There is so much more to tell, as my new life evolves and takes on a purpose I had never anticipated. I hope you will join me here on the DWDC blog for future instalments, as I journey forward into uncharted territory. 

Liana Brittain provides dual advocacy for chronic pain and medical assistance in dying. She is also the architect of the Living in Pain Successfully program. She has written about her chronic pain in her book, A Gentle Warrior.


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