Grief and a MAID death

Personal Stories | May 14, 2021 | Dying With Dignity Canada

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Grief is a topic that is often overlooked or neglected, yet grief is an experience that impacts people in a myriad of ways. As part of our mission which aims to advocate, educate, and support, we have identified the need for public education surrounding the grief experience. Several storytellers have shared their lived experience with grief for our blog – this is a story about someone who chose a medically assisted death, his wife’s grief and the support she found around her.

My husband was a kind, friendly and welcoming man. We were married for 46 years. It was important to both of us to raise our family in the country. We have four children and eight grandchildren. He was a school teacher who spent 41 years in the classroom. He loved all sports both as an athlete, spectator and coach. He served on many community boards, and he loved to travel. He always said that it’s not the destination but the journey along the way.

After a twelve-year journey with Parkinson’s disease, he had a MAID death at home on June 12, 2020. He died in our bed with me beside him. We had worked so hard and were looking forward to a healthy retirement. His parents both lived into their nineties. I was sad that we wouldn’t have that future together.

The days leading up to his MAID procedure were the most intimate days of our marriage. I felt overwhelmed with love. He had told our children of his decision. He said he only wanted me to be with him. Just me. Those weeks were very profound with honest, open conversations. He had reached his choice point; he would see the writing on the wall. The MAID application gave him a huge sense of calm and greatly reduced anxiety. He had control back in his life. I will always remember the birth of our children and being in labour and looking into his calm reassuring eyes. He would say, “You’re doing good, breathe.” We had learned the Lamaze breathing. And now it was my turn to support him in his decision for his rebirth.

After he died, I was relieved and I had no regrets about his decision. He was at peace. I felt a huge sense of gratitude to him and to the compassionate MAID team. It was comforting for me to see him at peace laying in his own bed – no pain, no violent falls, no anxiety, no turmoil, no nightmares, just peace. We, as a couple, were at peace. The MAID doctor said that we were a strong couple and said that it was wonderful to see the support we gave each other.

I lay beside him and listened to music. I had seven songs on a playlist. This included “Time to say Goodbye“ by Sara Brightman and “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof. This last song was one of our wedding songs – “swiftly flow the years, one season following another, laid with happiness and tears.” Sitting next to him, I phoned the kids. My husband had written a letter to them which I read:

When you have reached the time in life when living has become too hard and too complicated to continue. I am not prepared to go forward. My children, you have been my inspiration all my life and you are still my inspiration in death. Your mom and I have had a great life together and you were all a great part of it. There will come a time for everyone to say goodbye and I have reached that point and now I will say goodbye to you with love. It has been with your understanding, your joy, your love that I am prepared to pass peacefully on. I am truly contented. Love to you all.

He stayed with me for eleven hours after he died. It was just so comforting to know, to see that his suffering was truly over.

Ten months later, I am doing well now. I am so happy that I reached out to the social worker of the MAID program. She invited me to join two grief programs, Mindfulness & Grief and Bereavement. These very skilled and compassionate facilitators do excellent work. Both were very beneficial.

My husband recorded a video message. His words continue to support me.

Good morning everyone, it’s a nice, bright, very sunny morning and there’s lots of activity out here in our yard with the birds and the bees and the children are starting to come back to the park. It’s kind of a good last day for me. It’s sad to go but it’s worse to stay. I love you all; it’s been great to have been with you.

Having my husband’s neurologist call to see how I was doing was very helpful. My counsellor added in some Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART) sessions. I found these ART sessions to be very helpful. I have done a lot of journaling. I have binders full! Our children, our families and friends, self-care, walking, nature, classical music – these all helped me.

What I also found through my experience is that there is a lack of knowledge in this community about MAID. There is a misunderstanding about the MAID procedure. My husband and I were highly impressed with the MAID process. The doctors reviewed his case looking to see if there was anything else that they could suggest to improve his quality of life. He saw four doctors and a physiotherapist. We truly were very grateful for their care and compassion.

When my husband died, there wasn’t a social worker for MAID. I always thought it would have been helpful to have received a follow-up call a month later. This would have been appreciated because locally I didn’t feel comfortable discussing how he died. For example, I didn’t feel comfortable attending the local grief support group at the Catholic Church. I did not receive any support from his local doctor either, this was disappointing to me.

Reflecting on the experience, I feel blessed. I witnessed my husband’s transformation. Watching him become completely at peace, calm, reflecting back on his life and on his family.

To conclude, I would like to include the letter that I read to my husband on his birthday at his gravesite two weeks ago.

Happy birthday,

Winter was quiet and restful just as a winter should be. You were with me on every snowshoe hike – encouraging me up every hill. I would remember all our walks on the farm checking out the recent wildlife tracks.

Your sister left on Thursday. We got to know each other better over the past five weeks. She said that you and I were good together and that she had always thought so. And yes, despite our human imperfections we were. She said that she was grateful to you, proud of you, said that you made the right decision.

I miss you whistling, I miss the twinkle in your eyes, I miss your winks. You were always helping. I’ll have to call Ford this week to get the tires changed and the kitchen floor doesn’t get swept as often. 

I will always be so proud of your courage, your clear thinking in those last weeks and of your decision and of your love. This is a journey that isn’t over.

I’ve been watching the webinars from Dying With Dignity Canada. The next one is on Bill C-7. It’s where politics, your interest, and medicine, my interest, meet. And I’ve been taking your advice to heart – not to rush but to take my time, to be patient with myself, not to worry about the little things, they are just little things. You said I’ll be okay, and I know that I will be, but I’m missing you.

It’s spring now and the pussy willows are blooming, birds are returning, sap is rising. I will be listening to the frogs and you will be with me. We’ll be sitting quietly listening together. Thank you for being my husband. That was the last thing I said to you. And I’ll say it again, thank you for being my husband for I know what it is to be loved.

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