Bill and Hazel: A love story
Personal Stories | October 29, 2021 | Sylvia Henshaw
Written by a dear friend of Bill and Hazel, Sylvia Henshaw
If dictionaries had photographs, beside the definition of a gentleman would be one of my friend and neighbour, William (Bill) Dauphinee Zinck, 1929-2019. He was in every way a chivalrous, courteous and honourable man.
My husband, Doug, and I first met Bill and his wife Hazel in 2010 when we both moved to the same street. The day we met, a very young eighty-three-year-old Bill was making an urn for his own ashes. Doug was in poor health and was most interested in the beautiful work. The conversation flowed from urns, to health, to illness and then to death. All four of us agreed we did not want a prolonged death. We spoke, perhaps irreverently, of pushing each other off the proverbial cliff. Those words would take on much more serious meaning in the years to come.
In 1961, Bill married Hazel, who was one of six sisters. An extremely talented plumber, carpenter, draftsman and handyman, he was a welcome addition to Hazel’s family, for they did not have indoor plumbing. Bill decided the ideal place for a bathroom was in a pantry. Hazel’s mother was said to exclaim, “Good Lord, Bill, you can’t put a bathroom in my pantry”! I am pretty sure she forgave him in time.
A few years after their marriage, Bill, Hazel and Bill’s son David moved from their Nova Scotia home to the United States. They returned home in 1979. Through all their moves, Bill provided Hazel with many houses, but he always said it was Hazel who made every one of them a home. They were totally devoted to each other, their large circle of family and friends, and their church.
When Bill C-14 became law in 2016, my husband applied for a medically assisted death (MAID). At that time, there were no volunteer witnesses to call, and we were not permitted to use the staff at his nursing home. Doug wanted his choice to be kept secret, as he felt unable to defend himself if challenged. So, I was tasked with finding two independent witnesses who would be supportive of the very new medical assistance in dying. Rejection would have been intolerable.
Through a very tearful visit with Bill and Hazel, I asked them if they would witness Doug’s signature on his application for an assisted death. They didn’t hesitate for a minute, for they knew how strongly he felt and, as frequent visitors, they knew he was suffering.
That day, I promised both of them if they should ever need me, I would be there for them.
In December of 2018, Bill was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer, which did not respond to radiation and medication. Since Doug’s death, Bill had known exactly how he would die if he had no hope of living a meaningful life. However, Hazel, who had survived her own battle with aggressive cancer, was suffering from dementia and was on a waitlist for a bed in long-term care. A niece moved in as caregiver for both. Bill was always gentle and patient with Hazel’s short term memory loss, her endless questions and her tendency to put things away for “safe keeping” and forgetting where she put them.
In early October, I assisted Bill in his application for MAID, and was one of his witnesses. He lived just long enough to know that a bed was available for his Hazel, and now he was happy to “cross over to the other side.”
When he could no longer get out of bed on his own, Hazel bathed him, and during the night, gave him his pain medication. Unfortunately, she had no memory of her role in assisting with his care. Their dedication to each other lasted to the end, through health and illness. When I asked Bill if I could share his story with the Dying With Dignity Canada community, he told me only if I made it a love story, because without Hazel, there would be no Bill.
October 17, 2019, was a busy day in the Zinck home, with many visitors and phone calls. As Bill did not want to die in the bed he shared with Hazel, he made his way to his chair in the den. He was laughing, and joking with those present, and told his minister he was excited to begin the journey. Bill’s final words were to ask us to continue to provide comfort and care for Hazel. Present were his doctor, his minister, the administering doctor, and a few family and friends. Hazel sat next to him, holding his hand. I was on her other side and answered her questions as she tried unsuccessfully to absorb the enormity of the situation. As one friend described his death, “Heaven made a service call.”
As sad as we were to lose our beloved Bill, we became focused on Hazel’s mental and physical well-being. She couldn’t remember Bill’s death, she wondered if he had left her for another woman. In a matter of days, she lost her husband and her home. It was heartbreaking to see the woman who had loved, and was loved so deeply, feel she had been abandoned.
We visit her as often as COVID restrictions allow. Unfortunately, she rarely recognizes any of us. The talented, gracious, witty lady, the excellent hostess, the beautiful cook, the sharp dresser, the great listener is now confined to a wheelchair and needing total care.
We have followed her decline, sat by her while she described parts of her married life, then we heard about her life with her mother and her sisters. As she regressed, we listened to her childhood memories. Now, even her voice has left her.
It is impossible for me not to compare Bill’s end of life with what Hazel is facing. For fifty-eight years they did everything together. Their endings couldn’t be more different. Bill was empowered by being accepted for MAID. He left us in a room full of family, friends, love, respect and dignity, with his beloved Hazel by his side.
I don’t know how or when Hazel will take her final breath. She has no control. I am quite sure she doesn’t even think about it. She was always accepting of whatever came her way.
Some of us who visit her have the same goodbye every time. “You are warm, you are safe, and you are loved.” In the early days of her widowhood, she used to repeat it with us, with a full voice. And then, the voice became smaller and weaker. Now, we sometimes think we see the glimmer of a smile or a flash of recognition, but even that is not certain. We just hope she can sense that she is loved.