Liana Brittain: Surviving the holiday season in the midst of grief

Personal Stories | December 21, 2018 | Liana Brittain

Home / Personal Stories / Liana Brittain: Surviving the holiday season in the midst of grief

When it comes to grief and bereavement, everyone’s path is different. Similarly, every experience with medical assistance in dying (MAID) is as individual as the person who chooses it. That’s why we have much to learn from the growing number of Canadians who have supported a loved one on a journey with assisted dying.

In this special blog post, Ontario’s Liana Brittain provides invaluable insights into her grief following her husband Paul’s assisted death. She also writes about the unique challenges facing loved ones who are left behind after a MAID death and the pain that is triggered by the holiday season.

’Tis the season…, but for some of us, the holidays bring added pressures as we struggle with those proverbial Ghosts of Christmas Past. No matter what your religious or spiritual beliefs, this time of year is often filled with family, traditions, and social gatherings. These can lead to poignant memories that tear at our hearts as we attempt to process our grief.

I recently had a discussion with a group of people whose loved ones also chose medical assistance in dying (MAID). Together, we shared the diversity of our experiences. It became readily apparent that each MAID procedure was as unique as the person who made that choice. Those people who have shared this journey with their loved ones have also had a totally individual experience. Like their loved one’s MAID experience, their grief is distinctive.

We are all like snowflakes — no two are exactly the same, although we may share similar patterns. It’s very important that this be recognized. Unfortunately for some, MAID is not the beautiful, empowered, smoothly orchestrated occasion my husband Paul and I shared. For some, the MAID process was marred by a medical system grappling with new, often ambiguous, guidelines and policies. Sometimes, the facilities or the providers were struggling to find just the right way to meet the individual needs of each patient and their family, while trying to navigate their own feelings and the parameters within which they were allowed to operate. Occasionally, circumstances beyond anyone’s control arose, which brought frustrations, delays, and failures.

In some instances, family members are not open to accepting their loved one’s choice. There may have been religious, cultural, and personal tensions that created conflicts, which in turn developed into situations filled with anger, frustration, and bitterness. These feelings did not dissolve suddenly after the death had transpired. Those left behind to grieve the loss of their loved one were faced with myriad negative feelings. It is essential that, as this new community emerges, we acknowledge the full spectrum of unique experiences that accompany a person’s decision to access MAID at the end of their life — the good, the bad, and sometimes, even the very ugly.

“Our grief, our suffering”

During the holiday season, we — the witnesses who accompanied our loved ones through medical assistance in dying — need to be recognized for the individuality of our own experience: our grief, our suffering. It’s important that those around us be aware that each of us is struggling to process our own unique experience with MAID and our equally respective grief.

It’s tempting for others to admire what appears to be the strength being displayed by those of us who are attempting to deal with the surreal nature of MAID and how it has impacted us. Medical assistance in dying generates a death like no other because of the anticipation of the time, date, and location. We live that. Those circumstances make it difficult for us to share what we’re going through with others. It’s not a traditional death. It wasn’t random. It was carefully planned. We may appear strong, but we need your understanding and caring support. When so many others are filled with good cheer and happiness, remember that ours is another path — one that is strewn with possible doubts, fears, guilt, anger, and certainly, the gut-wrenching loss we are going through.

Please allow me to leave you with these thoughts as I reflect upon this holiday season and my own personal holiday MAID grief:

You’re Strong

They say

“You’re strong.”

What does that mean?

I can’t see me

As they do.

I can only

Feel me,

Be me,

In this moment.


In comparison

To what?

This façade

Is but an illusion!

Or is it?

Am I strong

Because I do not





Or blow away?

Am I strong

Because I still





And voice my thoughts?

I don’t feel


I feel


The child in me weeps.

It’s all so new…



It’s not familiar.

I don’t know who I am.

I don’t recognize

this me.

…but I will learn.

Each day will teach me

How to be “I”

Instead of “US.”


When all the lessons

Are mastered,


I will feel


Liana Brittain

13 Nov. 2018

A photo of Liana

Liana Brittain provides dual advocacy for chronic pain and medical assistance in dying. She is also the architect of the Living in Pain Successfully program. She has written about her chronic pain in her book, A Gentle Warrior.

This blog was originally published on Liana’s personal website, “MAiD Together — A Communal Voice,” which was created in loving memory of her husband, Paul B. Couvrette, who accessed MAID in 2017.

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