A soft breeze on your sails

Personal Stories | January 14, 2022 | Cheryl Durkin

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A photo of Cheryl's Dad with a big smile

As I write today, I have a sense of relief for my dad as he has returned to my mom, bringing along their beloved pups, Marley and Lexie. 

Our story began when my mom was diagnosed with metastasized breast cancer back in 2013. As I saw her decline take its toll on her dignity and soul I started my search for alternatives –  hospice or choosing her own ending. I was shocked that my mom wasn’t able to have control over her end-of-life experience. This is how I found Dying With Dignity Canada and a way to advocate for end-of-life rights and medical assistance in dying (MAID). 

I signed their petition and shared it with family and friends. At this point, MAID wasn’t legal in Ontario or Canada. I wanted so badly to take the pain away for my mom and give her peace. It baffles me that when our pets are sick or in pain we choose to ‘put them down’ and not endure suffering for a long period of time but we don’t have the same consideration for people. Where is the humanity!? 

The next best thing that was available was hospice. The empathy, love, and knowledge that my mom and our family received was incredible. They made sure to keep her comfortable and reduce her pain. My pup and I stayed by her bedside for two nights and by the third day she took her last breath. I know hospice gave her the opportunity to let go. I thank them for all of their kindness and support for myself and my family during that difficult time. 

Fast forward seven years. My 83-year-old dad had lived the last seven years without his soul mate but managed to find joy in many things throughout the years – his two puppies, winters in Florida, seeing his baby girl get married, meeting his youngest granddaughter and spending time with family and friends.  

His health started to decline about two years ago from heart disease. My dad’s quality of life declined significantly while in Florida. I flew out there and drove him home. As we were in quarantine together at his house for two weeks, I realized he couldn’t live on his own anymore without help. My search began with finding a beautiful retirement home five minutes away from me. I found him the largest room and easy access to let his pups outs. I thought it was a perfect solution. My dad was very upset with the idea and didn’t want to leave his home.  

I understood his decision but he was a three-hour drive from my home. How was I going to care for him? The community he lived in was amazing. I was able to put a schedule together to help with walking the pups, checking in and having meals prepared. I was also able to schedule a nurse and a respiratory therapist.  

The issue was it just wasn’t enough support for what he needed and his home was a constant revolving door. He was exhausted with all of the visitors, trying to look after himself, and take his medications.  

It was Father’s Day weekend and I decided to have a conversation with him about MAID. I shared as much as I knew and explained that he could speak with the nurse, who was coming to the house that day, about it. It was a tough conversation but allowed him to see another option. After our conversation with the nurse, I could tell the anxiety had faded and he felt more in control again.  

We talked about how mom passed and that my dad wanted his last breath to be his choice. Based on his condition, dad was approved by the two independent MAID assessors and set his date for his provision. It was a very organized and seamless process for him, thankfully. 

During his last 24 hours, he requested that his two pups be put to sleep on his lap at the same time. Lexie was very sick and they were both very old and had pain.

My dad got his wish to have all of his family together one last time. This was the most time the whole family had spent together in decades. At the time, I believe, it brought us all closer. My dad wanted to have a scotch and ribs, baked potatoes, and corn for dinner. I brought picture books and we all sat together, had drinks and shared memories, and laughs. It almost felt like a normal family gathering.  

My dad and I had a very close relationship – like we were part of each other’s souls. As I sat beside him with our foreheads touching, I told him his journey was just about to begin and reunite with his Lynnie, my mom. As he took his last breath, he said, “No more pain.” I promised him I would share his story so other people know that this is an option for people struggling and feeling like there is no choice for them. It was also very symbolic that dad and the dogs continued their journey together. I miss them more than life but I know they are with me.  

Love you more xoxo 

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