“If you love someone, set them free”

Personal Stories | March 22, 2024 | Brian Brown

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A headshot of Brian's dad, Mervyn.

It is my hope that by sharing our story here, as many others have done, it can help others who are on, or are considering, the MAID journey. 
 
My dad was 92 years old this past February and, yes, had lived a full and relatively happy life. A strong man who was adored by many. A wonderful father to his three children and devoted husband to my mom who passed away from cancer four years ago. 
 
We know, and expect, that as our parents age, particularly into their nineties, there is the ever-present probability that they will soon pass, either from natural causes or through sudden illness as was the case with my mom. This is nature’s way, and we are normally mentally and emotionally equipped to accept the inevitable circle of life. MAID seems to change that. 
 
My dad had almost no mental incapacitates from aging, sharp as a tack as they say. He was emotionally devastated when my mom passed, of course, but over some time he did rebound and was living comfortably in a local retirement residence where he had many friends, enjoying a good, very social lifestyle. He was able to completely care for himself. However, physically, over the past year in particular, he was suffering increasing challenges. Diagnosed with slow progression renal cancer some years ago, severe COPD and asthma, and almost constant pain from a spinal nerve condition, each day was becoming a struggle for him to continue to enjoy his life. Despite excellent care by his doctors trying to treat his conditions, being of sound mind, Dad was fully aware of medical limitations and that his conditions would continue to worsen over time in a very slow and agonizing way. Dad’s biggest fear and anxiety was to become dependent on others for his daily care should he become incapacitated in any way. 
 
Enter MAID. About a year ago, Dad began exploring MAID, investigating the process, participating in the advocacy efforts of Dying With Dignity Canada, and contributing financially to their ongoing efforts. Then, some weeks ago, after much consideration, he made the decision to apply for MAID for himself.

During his research and deliberation, Dad did openly discuss MAID with my sisters and I; I suppose in an effort to prepare us. We also did our research to understand the process but, during that period, I will say it seemed more like just distant information rather than a reality we would be facing. Then, after Dad’s consultations with the MAID assessors, he learned on February 15th that he did qualify for MAID and they agreed to the date of February 22nd for the procedure. Things got very real then! 
 
We are not wired to emotionally cope with knowing the exact date and time of our death, or that of a loved one. As a family member, during that last week, I found myself pretty much entirely mentally and emotionally consumed with thoughts of my dad and what was to come. I experienced a wide range of very strong emotions, including sadness, anxiety, stress, and even anger. I don’t fully understand the emotional impact I experienced but I think it’s important for loved ones to be aware that it will likely occur and prepare for that by whatever means available. 
 
While I, and our family, were experiencing this surreal state of mind, Dad seemed serene and relieved. He, of course, was disturbed by our distress, but made every effort to console us by sharing his thoughts and feelings. As Dad explained, we have to understand that the elderly seem to have a different perspective on dying. He had no fear and anticipated dying as a new journey for him. He believed he would rejoin my mom. Dad felt that he had fully lived his purposeful life and would soon have no quality of life left as his ailments progressed and he felt he would become a burden to those around him. His hope was that as MAID became more commonplace and accessible that it would be available to a wider range of elderly people who also feel their lives are completed and have no remaining quality of life to enjoy. He believed we all have that right to choose, and the right to die with dignity at a time and place of our choosing. 
 
During his last week, while us kids were trying to prepare ourselves emotionally for the coming day and procedure, Dad calmly went about his daily routines for the most part. Dad had always had his affairs organized but also spent time packing and organizing his belongings so that we didn’t have so much work to do after he was gone. We spent time together and shared many happy memories. One advantage of knowing in advance is that we, as his children, had the opportunity to express our love for him and ensure he knew how proud we were of the father he had been. So often we never have that opportunity before a loved one passes away. 
 
Dad chose to not tell anyone aside from us immediate family that he was having MAID prior to the procedure. He didn’t want to put an emotional burden on everyone prior to his procedure and preferred to let others just deal with his passing as if he just passed suddenly, as is often the case with the elderly. He did encourage us to let people know about MAID after the fact in his effort to make more people aware. 
 
In the time prior to Dad’s acceptance to MAID as we researched the program, we learned that the most resistance to MAID is primarily from family members who don’t want to lose their loved ones. It is indeed selfish, but, now, I fully understand those feelings. We somehow, irrationally, put aside their pain and/or suffering and just want to desperately hold onto them for as long as possible. It’s very hard to lose a loved one, especially a parent, but it is so much harder to watch that loved one suffer for a prolonged period. We experienced that when my mom got sick and she endured weeks of pain and suffering at home, and in hospice care, prior to her passing. Nobody should ever have to suffer like that in our modern society, especially the ones we hold most dear. Yes, for family members, MAID is hard, that is the reality, but compared to the horrible alternatives that will likely occur to our ailing loved one, it truly is a blessing. 
 
On the day of Dad’s procedure, he was calm, relaxed, at ease, and, I dare say, eager. He was very tired of quietly and stoically dealing with all his ailments day in and day out. He wanted to leave this life behind and begin his new journey. He was, of course, sad to be leaving us behind and didn’t want us to be sad, but that is inevitable. Inside, we, his family, were not nearly as calm and I felt a constant surreal anxiety. To be expected I suppose. Despite the strange emotions running through all of us, during his last hour we shared happy memories and laughter. He had even joked that he didn’t know how to pack for this journey because he couldn’t find a weather report for heaven on the Internet. 
 
The MAID team arrived at the designated time and included a nurse, the providing doctor, and another doctor in training for the MAID program. They were all very calm and put my dad, and us, at ease as much as possible. When the nurse asked him to get comfortable to begin her work, Dad stood from his chair, hugged us all, and walked himself to his bed with his head held high and his dignity firmly intact. Probably the bravest, most selfless act I have ever witnessed. As the doctor prepared to administer the drugs, Dad smiled his infectious smile at all of us, told us he loved us, said goodbye and fixed his gaze on the favourite, ever present, picture of my mom. I held his hand, and he mine, as he drifted off into a peaceful sleep and embarked on his new journey. And, soon, he was gone. No more pain, no more struggling to breathe, at peace. 
 
As difficult as it is emotionally, it truly is a privilege to be with a loved one when they pass. To know without question, and witness, that they are made completely comfortable through the MAID procedure and surrounded by love during their final moments. I personally can’t imagine a better scenario for anyone to leave this life and begin their next journey whatever that is for them. 
 
Of course, we now grieve the loss of my dad. That is normal, and expected, and will run it’s due course. Despite our selfish thoughts and wishes to keep him forever, we no longer see him suffering, with no positive end in sight, and that does bring us peace. 
 
If you love something, set it free.

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