Bereavement Week Series: Elaine’s story

Personal Stories | November 17, 2021 | Dying With Dignity Canada

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A photo of Elaine's mom

November 16 is National Grief and Bereavement Day. In recognition of this important day we are sharing a series of stories submitted by DWDC supporters about their grief and bereavement experience and process. For some, writing down the memory of a loved one is part of their bereavement process, for others reading the stories is comforting. We hope you find solace in the stories shared in this series.

This is Elaine’s story.


My mother lived her life with patience, empathy, intelligence, and tremendous faith in love and family.  We were very close and I took this relationship for granted, like most children do of their parents I suppose.  She was always right; whether the topic was how to wear clothing, organize the kitchen drawers, raise kids, cook Chinese soups or investing in real estate. Funny enough, her older sister was the same.  She was always right and 99% of the time, this was so. Mum and I spoke three or four times a week by phone during her last 25 years and I would visit her often.  

After being diagnosed with a rare form of Metastatic Melanoma in March 2020 – similar to President Jimmy Carter’s – and also trying immunotherapy, she elected medical assistance in dying (MAID). Our doctor was intelligent and deeply empathetic throughout our dialogue and the process itself. We sent her onwards on September 15, 2020.

When I learned of her diagnosis, I felt surprised, this heavy feeling that all the news, doctor visits and data were unreal. I also felt a great deal of admiration for my mum to have managed all aspects of her departure including legal issues, her estate, the elimination of physical assets, and setting up care for her husband, my dad. She made the load tremendously lighter for me, her eldest child and executor. 

Sometimes I felt happy that we could do simple things together, like sorting old clothes and photos. I also felt dark despair as I helped her pick out her final outfit, a simple casual outfit as if she was going through a regular day’s activities; and her final music, the Lord’s Prayer as sung by Andrea Bocelli. Mostly though, I felt a lot of love emanating from her to our whole family.  She spoke to all her loved ones in advance to express her love, and let them know she was ready. I helped her coordinate and manage all that was needed to be done with her care team and the Dying with Dignity Canada team, who were very gentle with us.

After her death, there was a void in my life. Then I was reminded of my mum’s studies with Sadhguru and Buddhism. She believed that feelings come from thoughts, thoughts can be ephemeral, and it’s okay to cry and breathe through the feelings of sadness to have lost her guidance and care.  

To cope, I got busy with my duties as executor. I also used a journal to allow my emotions a place to land. I talked to her friends and our close family. We were able to reignite some of her energy in those calls and continue to do so today. Finally, I returned to nature; I took a lot of walks on the beach or nearby trails, something I’ve always used in times of stress. I chose not to use formal organized support. Instead, I simply relied on my husband, dear friends, family, yoga and exercise. 

I learned a few key lessons about family and myself; that some people don’t intend to be hurtful, yet are extremely masterful at it, that it makes sense to cut them out of one’s life, try to forgive them, and to turn energies towards the infinitely kind and loyal ones that step up to support and offer care, and that we have a new tradition of lighting a candle and telling stories about Mum each September and to bow to her at every visit to the ocean.

I was previously unaware of Dying With Dignity Canada and MAID. I am so glad we were able to do everything humanly possible for my mum — to spend time together, to support her death choices and to support my father. Through the process and engaging with the DWDC team, I see how liberating and life affirming it can be to make such a personal choice. 

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