A love story and its lasting impact

Married for 56 years, Christie and Will Bentham spawned a legacy of giving that continues on in their wake.

When Margaret Bentham closes her eyes and thinks of her parents, she sees them sailing away on their beloved boat, Spree. She pictures them having a peaceful moment together at the end of lives well-lived.

For Christie and Will, living well meant so much more than just an undeniable commitment to each other; they also lived to serve and empower others. So committed were they to improving the lives — and the deaths — of those less fortunate, the Benthams left a legacy of overflowing kindness that has outlived the two of them and promises to endure long into the future.

True to form, Christie and Will met while helping others. Will, after suffering a boyhood episode of severe pain, decided to become a doctor. He soon became the anesthetist-of-choice for other doctors, nurses and their families. And while interning at Hamilton General Hospital, he met Christie, one of the first speech pathologists in Ontario. Six months later, they were married.

The duo became proud and devoted parents to six children, adopted at different ages and from a number of countries around the world. Margaret was the first child to join the family. She says her father used to joke that he was reluctant to drive by the Children’s Aid Society in case Christie insisted on “dropping in.”

Championing choice

Christie and Will joined DWDC in 2012. Shortly after, Will was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. For the Benthams, dying with dignity was not about politics. It was about having the ability to plan ahead for end of life and having the choice to die on their own terms.

As Will’s condition worsened, he turned to his wife of 56 years to support him in his decision to end his life. That summer, they invited loved ones to the couple’s favourite place in the world, their cottage on Stony Lake in Ontario, to say goodbye.

After Will died, Christie carried a great weight on her shoulders. She deeply regretted that her husband had to end his life earlier than he might have wanted, since he could not rely on others for help. She felt strongly that the system needed to change.

That change started when the Supreme Court of Canada announced its landmark Carter ruling in February 2015. When it happened, Christie was at DWDC’s head office with her granddaughter Genevieve. Christie taught her grandchildren that in order to be interesting, you needed to be interested. And Genevieve felt incredibly grateful to share her granny’s interests on such a momentous day, celebrating compassion, choice and change.

However, Christie was not able to see this change realized in her lifetime. She suffered a devastating stroke last December. When it was clear that she would not recover, her family had her advance care plan ready and honoured Christie’s wishes for no more medical intervention. While hers might not have been the gentlest of deaths, Christie’s family was grateful because they knew their mother’s wishes were being respected.

Christie’s parting gift

The Benthams’ commitment to the choice of a dignified death did not end with their own. When Christie died, she left DWDC a legacy gift in her will, which we received in the spring. Hers was the single largest donation we had received all year.

Christie’s donation couldn’t have come at a more critical time. It helped us make a difference while Bill C-14 was being fiercely debated in the House of Commons and the Senate. We were directly involved in blocking the passage of a Senate amendment that would have required desperately ill Canadians to apply to a judge for permission to have an assisted death. Had we not been prepared to mobilize our resources quickly and efficiently, we wouldn’t have been successful in convincing key members of the Senate to quash this disastrous proposal. Simply put, Christie’s gift was instrumental in our small but hugely consequential victory.

In sum, the Benthams set a powerful example not only for their 14 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, but also for the team at DWDC and thousands of Canadians who support the right to a dignified death. May their loving, generous spirit be felt by Canadians for many decades to come.

Are you interested in leaving a legacy gift for Dying With Dignity Canada? Contact Laura Satin Levin, our fund development officer, at 647-977-4126 or laura@dyingwithdignity.ca to learn more about how you can make a lasting contribution.