Les and the good death: A MAID story
Personal Stories | May 27, 2022 | Diane Rizun
In our early years of dating, Les always said that if he ever got sick, he would simply go for a walk in the woods. Once he learned about medical assistance in dying (MAID), he likened it to his walk in the woods.
We found MAID when Les was formally diagnosed with Alzheimer’s dementia by a geriatrician in January 2019. He had just turned 68. His diagnosis shook us both to the core. Other than dementia, Les was fit. He still liked to run, he didn’t take any medications and he had no previous illnesses. But it did answer many questions I had about the changes that I had attributed to ‘old age’ and that it was ‘just Les’. In the same month, January, Les filled out the Patient Request Record for MAID with the help of Dying with Dignity Canada – a positive experience as they came to our home and made it easy and simple.
A few months later Les’ geriatrician explained that she felt Les still had some good, quality years ahead, so we put MAID aside, and sure enough Les did well up until October 2021. He then decided to stop all prescribed medication because he said he wanted to die naturally. Something had ‘clicked’ for him at that time, and it is only in hindsight that I see he was already preparing for his death. Stopping all medications hastened his decline but he was happy to not take them.
We saw Les’ geriatrician mid-November 2021, and she explained to us that soon Les would be in a nursing home, but if he was still interested in MAID he had a small window. This opened my eyes because I had thought it was too late for MAID. So, Les and I talked more about MAID throughout December. Many nights we lay on the bed just talking about our memories, our story, his fears, our love, and MAID. He knew he was getting worse, and that it was recently affecting his heart. I was looking after toileting him, which he did not like, and his increasing dependance on me often made him cry. He needed me 24/7 those past few weeks prior to MAID. He also knew I was having a difficult time with the caregiving.
In early January 2022, Les asked me to look into MAID. Our family doctor had already approved Les for MAID in early December. So, I contacted the BC Fraser Health MAID team, they explained that they looked after the second doctor who would actually be doing the MAID provision.
Just a few days later I was told the doctor would come to our home and make an assessment; this happened January 26 in the evening. She approved Les for MAID and asked when he wanted it done. Les said, “As soon as possible.” And with that, Friday January 28, 7:00pm was arranged. It was all happening so fast!
Our three adult children knew about Les’ interest in MAID. Les said he only wanted me there but a close friend told me to really try and get the kids to come or we would all regret it. Long story short, all three kids and families came well ahead of their dad’s scheduled MAID time, some from quite a distance. Whew.
I hardly remember that Friday; I think I was in some kind of shock. Somehow the day went by. The kids ordered in food. I was in no shape to cook. One son and wife worked hard at putting together a last-minute photo show for our big screen TV, while working around their two young children. I do remember showering Les and putting on his favourite clothes. He liked that.
At 6:30 pm, the RN arrived to put a small intravenous line into Les’ arm. The MAID physician arrived at 7:00 pm and asked to speak to Les alone to make sure he had not changed his mind. Les said he still wanted to die. The doctor prepared the medications then slowly injected them, starting around 7:10 pm, whilst explaining what she was doing, and that Les would gradually fall asleep. Les was sitting on our living room couch, I was on his left side, holding his hand as I had promised I would do the whole way. The doctor was on his right side. The kids were closely around Les, touching him tenderly.
I just kept saying, “I love you, it was ok to let go now, and to go to the light,” as I squeezed his hand. I had one hand over his heart. The kids said their goodbyes also, with lots of “I love you Dad.” They even said, “We’ll look after Mum.” There were many tears, of course.
The doctor pronounced Les dead at 7:20 pm. He was so peaceful the whole time, with a smile, almost. The doctor left and the RN gently laid Les down on the couch, then he left. Les remained on couch, at peace, for one hour (our choice) until the funeral home came and took his body away. It was a sacred time during that one hour, with a lightness and tender talk in an atmosphere of pure love and stillness. Love reigned over sadness then. Time stood still during that sacred hour that enveloped us all.
After Les’ body was gone, more food was ordered, and our family talked so very deeply with pure love, a love and sacredness that was palpable. I am sure that night will be remembered and honoured in a very deep and loving way that changed each and every one of us, a gift that will stay forever. We were very fortunate to be at our loved one’s side to say our goodbyes.
Everyone stayed over Friday night, and Saturday morning there was more easy-going talk about our lives and how we were doing. It all felt natural and flowed easily. The kids gradually left on Saturday, one after the other. By the time I was by myself, it felt right. I can’t remember what I did the rest of the day, I imagine I just rested.
In hindsight it was the perfect death, and the way Les wanted to die. MAID was his walk in the woods; he did it the way he wanted to, and when he wanted to. His favourite song was “I Did it My Way” by Frank Sinatra, and he listened to it a lot in the months before his death. The last few days he had reassured me that he was sure he could stay on track in asking to die. Then he humorously added that in the past he was a pretty good salesman. He wanted to ‘practice’ for MAID and so we did almost every night the last few days. His humour also kicked in when he said maybe he would just say, “Beam me up Scottie.” Les really did stay the course. At the time, I did not know if MAID would happen until the last minute when he said to the MAID doctor that he still wanted to die. But Les knew.
I think the timelines had to be that tight in order for MAID to happen for Les. A few months prior, and also one year before, Les said he wanted MAID, but always backed down, saying, “I’m asking someone to end my life!” He was not ready until he was ready.
In November, Les’ geriatrician told him to imagine being on a train, and there was a STOP button you could press, but in the case of dementia that stop button disappears one day! This was my major concern in the days leading up to MAID, and I have a feeling if we had waited even a few days later, that button might have disappeared, because of Les’ steady mental deterioration. A small window indeed.
I write this story so that more people will know about MAID and what it entails; a dignified death that can be arranged so that family and close friends are present. All of my three children told friends that they were coming to see their dad because he was dying with the help of MAID. Most had never heard of it. Since Les’ death I have had many people call me for information about MAID, and I can help them understand that they do not have to suffer needlessly. Even our veterinarian didn’t know, and he shared how he euthanizes suffering animals. He was grateful to know that he could share with his relatives who were suffering from cancer that they could explore this option. The list goes on.
One of Les’ legacies is to enable the MAID program to be known by many more people.
When we lose someone we love, we must learn not to live without them but to live with the love they left behind.” – Author unknown
A spiritual perspective
One of the last things Les said to me was, “You know our contract is over now?” He very much surprised me with that statement, and only after he died did I realize that he meant how we lived our entire lives together – over fifty years. That somehow, we had passed with flying colours, and now that our contract was totally over, it freed him on the ‘other side’, and me on this side, to continue my life in full freedom, with no ties or entanglements to our old contract. What a gift. I know Les is free now too.
The day before he died, Les told me that there were ‘golden people’ around him, and that they comforted him. In hindsight, I believe that it was known that Les would be passing over and that those golden people were ready and waiting. Les did not usually talk like this at all!
Les shared a few bits of information that others might think was the dementia, but I believe otherwise. He was entering the ‘other side’ more often, and was more confused in general but was still often able to ‘rise above it’ and tell me things from the ‘other side’. He woke up one time, looked startled and exclaimed, “Wow! I just had the best talk with my dad!” Les’ father died in 2006.
Near the end, Les and I had a fascinating conversation.
Les: My being is having another day.
Diane: Who is your being?
Les: It’s my inner self who looks after me.
He then spoke about an ocean with bays and people. I asked him about my bay.
Les: Your bay is deep, there are many layers, you are still at the shallow end.
Diane: How can I go deeper?
Les: Throw the anchor away, the anchor anchors everything: fear, love, and more.
Diane: When do people throw the anchor away?
Les: It has to be at the very end.
Diane: So there’s no way to go deep until you die?
Les: Yes. The anchor knows. None of this is bad. Everyone has to be anchored. The anchor flutters sometimes, not being totally anchored, it thinks it is but there’s another step.
Diane: What is that other step?
Les: I don’t know.
I feel comforted that Les told me about the anchor, he died knowing this. He took that last step with confidence and courage, and he threw away his anchor as he went deeper into the bay. It still surprises me what he told me, as he was not that way inclined at all. Perhaps we all should listen a bit more to our loved ones with dementia.
Addendum: As a retired Emergency Room Registered Nurse, my background helped in understanding what was happening. I also want to mention that I have worked with a thousand or more traumatic deaths while working in E.R., and the way that Les died, through MAID, has been truly a godsend.