Aaron’s story: A mother’s reflection

Personal Stories | March 26, 2021 | Heather Cooke

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A photo of Aaron, Heather and the whole family at Disneyland

Heather Cooke is Aaron’s mother. She lives in Kingston, Ontario and has had a diverse and interesting career at Queen’s University in several faculties for 40 years. Heather’s relationship with her son was always her passion. Aaron was not only her child; he became her best friend. Her life was full of her work; her grandchildren; travel with her husband; and much joy; until Aaron was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer February 28th, 2019. In putting to paper the powerful and very personal story of Aaron’s end of life, Heather is longing to bring the fear of untimely death and the grieving process more fully into the light. 

Part I

Aaron was my son; my only child. He was 42 years of age when he lost the battle with stage four colon cancer after eighteen intense months full of numerous surgeries and procedures; a multitude of chemo treatments; blood clot emergencies; medical interventions; opinions and advice (both good and bad) from physicians; surgeons; oncologists; internal medicine; palliative care; and ultimately the medically assisted dying team “MAID”; and one amazing doctor on this team that “got it” and worked with Aaron to insure that what Aaron ultimately needed was realized. I will be forever grateful to him and his team.

What Aaron was able to ultimately control, when he accepted that the cancer within his body was going to win the battle, was the courage and love to leave his family on his terms. His terms meant he stayed with us for as long as he could be a fully engaged father; husband; son and friend. And when he could no longer be that to us, and to himself, and he knew his body was failing him and his life was ending, he was able to die on his terms, with dignity. He planned this day with words and songs that would bring us comfort, courage, and peace.

Although Aaron could not stay with us in this life as we know it, he was determined to leave his boys in the most beautiful way possible. And in that he gave them the gift of teaching them firsthand that even in death there is nothing to fear; and nothing is insurmountable, when surrounded by those you have loved completely. The legacy he left Oliver and Avery is one of profound courage, dignity, and hope.

Aaron was born into love on June 27th 1978; and from that he learned to return love fully. His courage and his wisdom grew out of love. During one of our early conversations after Aaron’s cancer prognosis became bleak, he shared with me that his life was wonderful and had always been so. His sorrow was in having to leave us way too soon. We had a deeply philosophical conversation that sunny June afternoon in our courtyard; and we talked about the injustice of him having to leave before us, and how that was just completely and utterly horrible. We talked about what might be out there; if anything; and Aaron shared that although he did not believe in afterlife he did not question or need to reassess his belief system. And he did promise to haunt me constantly if he could after he had to leave. I have felt his energy so often these past four months; and although I have no evidence to offer up whether there is or is not something beyond what we know to be life; I am learning to accept these many moments as precious “gifts” and not question where or why or what or how. I have no words to describe the pain of how deeply and powerfully I miss the tangible, physical, and living Aaron. But I cling to the truth that he lived his 42 years completely and his legacy is one of leaving this world a better place because he lived. And he does live on in Oliver and Avery. And so on, and so on, and so on…

I cannot imagine the horror of suffering and loneliness that Aaron’s last hours would have held, if the medically assisted death legislation had not been in place. The medical professionals who are fighting the battle to advance the legislation and educate the world on the critical importance of opening the doors fully on the option of medically assisted dying have become my heroes. May this new field of compassionate and progressive medical assistance in dying be embraced fully by our world as we move forward into frontiers of knowledge and truth and better understanding of the importance of choice in letting go of life when it is our time.

This is Aaron’s story as best I can recall it of his final weekend with us. It is written in the hope that those reading will value the deeply personal and important message of sharing such intimate and yet necessary moments of letting go of life and honouring what we are all born to ultimately do, cross over from life to death.

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