Kelly’s story: “It did not have to happen this way”

Personal Stories | February 5, 2021 | Rich Knuckle

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Kelly Knuckle sitting in a crowded room, smiling at the camera

Content warning: This article contains mention of suicide.

In the fall of 2020, DWDC was introduced to the family of Kelly Knuckle. Kelly had taken her own life because she suffered from an untreatable condition that was intolerable to her. Her family wanted to share Kelly’s story to provoke change and expand the eligibility requirements for medical assistance in dying. Below is her brother Richard’s letter to the Senate to help shine a light on the need for the changes in Bill C-7, followed by a poem written by Kelly before she died.

On Monday, November 4th, 2020 my sister, Kelly Knuckle, 49-year-old mother of three, died by suicide. She did this alone and in pain in the cold, unfamiliar surroundings of an anonymous hotel room. She chose this place because she had no better choice. She had been struggling with an untreatable neurological disorder and was experiencing increasingly more severe symptoms. Her decline looked to be leading her toward a long and agonizing death. At the time of her death, she was severely debilitated and living back home with my mother, but her death was not reasonably foreseeable. 

So rather than watch her family endure the pain, sorrow, and frustration that she knew would accompany her decline, she decided to end her life on her own terms. And rather than chance the possibility of at some point becoming physically incapable of carrying out a final plan, she chose to do it much sooner than she would have otherwise preferred. And rather than take the chance of exposing others to the possibility of any legal repercussions, she chose to be alone during her final moments. And rather than take the chance of a loved one finding her corpse, she chose a hotel room. And rather than expose her mother and children to the devastation of knowing in advance of a plan that was sure to upend their world, she chose to hide it from them. And, because her husband and siblings had witnessed her decline, and believed in its inevitability, we gave her our full support. On the night of her death, a handful of close confidantes knew that she was alone in some unnamed hotel room, and what she was doing there.

All through the night of November 3rd, my daughter knew that her grandmother would wake up and look into Kelly’s room as she did each morning and would not find her there. When my mother phoned me the next morning to tell me that she couldn’t find Kelly, I had to pretend I didn’t know what was going on.

So, I just listened as my mother tried to piece together the strange little abnormalities in Kelly’s behaviour the previous night – the papers spread out on Kelly’s bed when my mom went in to say goodnight (I knew these were the personal goodbye notes she had planned to prepare for all of us), and the extra-long, extra-strong hug that Kelly gave her when they parted for the night (I knew that it was the goodbye hug between a daughter and the Mother she would never see again).

The worst part of all of this is that it did not have to happen this way:

She could have died in her own bed.

She could have died surrounded by loved ones.

She could have gone peacefully and comfortably, rather than by her own hands.

She could have had more time with us if she knew medical assistance was guaranteed in the end.

And she could have had a legal, transparent, and cathartic final celebration which would have provided the closure she and her loved ones so badly needed.

But none of this happened – because her death was not reasonably foreseeable.

Canada has come a long way in our quest in allowing for medical assistance in death, but we have further to go. My sister did not qualify for MAID because her death was not reasonably foreseeable. She was in pain; she was filled with grief; she was desperate and out of options; and most importantly, her mind was made up. She was going to die with or without medical assistance. But her death was not reasonably foreseeable.

Is it reasonable to assume that the only circumstance under which a person should consider suicide is that death is already imminent?  Are profound grief, unbearable pain, perpetual suffering, and eternal hopelessness not worthy of consideration as possible factors in a person’s wish to end his or her life? These feelings are not relegated only to a time or situation where death is reasonably foreseeable. Who are we, as a society, to decide that the only reason for which we will agree to eliminate one’s pain, grief, and/or suffering is if he or she is going to die anyway.

I ask that, as politicians and human beings, you pass this legislation and allow for the simple desire for cessation of pain, suffering, and/or grief as a consideration in granting Medical Assistance In Death in Canada.

– Rich Knuckle


Written by Kelly Knuckle

No Sadness Greater Than This

How?  How do you let a life go when the joy of your children exists beyond measure?

How?  How can you leave, leaving everything and everyone behind?

The weight of knowing that I cannot change what is happening

The heaviness of being here, knowing that I cannot stay no matter what.

Watching, hearing, feeling the beautiful energy, ideas, thoughts, feelings, passions of those I love

How can I think of leaving one moment sooner?

The thought of staying here in broken, tired, angry exhausted bits

The idea that I will not participate in the whole of their lives or mine

But will fade and fall further away into this abyss of unbecoming…

This is not me.

And what’s more, there isn’t any way to rebuild from this.

To create even any semblance of who I’ve wished to be

Oh, life isn’t all about fulfilling wishes and being All That.

But life isn’t THIS.  Either.

This isn’t life.

I want to LIVE!!  Be fully engaged, involved and independent

I want to jump and dance and carry my load entirely myself

I want to support, enhance and advance my children and their lives!

Not hold them back and become a burden in any way.

I know they will say I would never be a burden.  I know they would carry me, protect me and provide.

But that is not the Mother I am.

That is not the life I want to live.

This is not living.

This is dying

Bit by ugly bit.

And my children’s lives are far too precious to me

Their loss will no doubt seem unbearable.

I can’t believe I am doing this to them

My grief and regret is absolute.

And still It is clear

I need to go

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