Lesson 5, assignment 4

Personal Stories | April 1, 2022 | Heather Cooke

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A photo of Heather Cooke

In March 2021, Heather Cooke shared a three-part blog post about her son Aaron’s brave choice to have an assisted death. Since then Heather has enrolled in a Thanatology course for grief and compassionate counselling. Lesson 5, assignment 4 was to write a letter to someone who has died. This is Heather’s letter to Aaron titled ‘A Love Letter To My Son.’

Dear Aaron,

Can it really be 17 months and 2 days since we surrounded your bed and we said goodbye? 

To me it feels like yesterday, and I suspect always will. Your courage, love, wisdom, and beauty in leading us thru that last weekend has become my guiding light thru every dark moment of this unbearable journey of learning to live without you. 

From the moment you let go of living in your body and your energy moved from breath to air I have held onto those last hours and moments with such pain, such pride, such love, such amazement. I adored you as my living son; and you know you were literally my everything in life. You know because I have told you so often; and now tell everybody that will listen that we shared the most authentically beautiful mother and son relationship possible. We really did have it all in the way we connected and communicated and loved each other.  As we both know, life until you were diagnosed with stage four colon cancer, had many twists and turns and moments of frustration. However, the blessing of how we were together as son and mother was literally “the best”; as “good as it gets”; and I always knew how deeply magical it was for us both.    

I know you know that losing you to cancer was the utmost horror. I would have sacrificed anything and all things to have kept you alive. And coming to terms with knowing we had to let you go should have killed me too. Yet here I am Aaron 17 months and 2 days later writing you this love letter to let you know it is because of your wisdom, your love, and your courage in choosing “how you would leave us” that we have all survived. 

Thank you sincerely for leaving me the gift of finding the words to write your “Leaving Us” story. Those first few months after you died were so full of grief and more loss and such painful self reflection. So, when in early January 2021 I was finally able to take your story and move it from heart to paper; the emotional relief was immense. 

And then “Leaving Us”, your story of dying with dignity; with the assistance of MAID began to take on a life of its own. It found its legs and then its wings and it has soared. Published in 3 different journals; nominated for a writer’s award; shared internationally and with every person Cynthia and I ever knew. Your death story is touching more lives than you could have ever imagined Aaron. And it will continue to do so in ways we may never know. One of your many legacies my son. 

When you had to face impending death after knowing that cancer was going to win the battle, you chose to own the decision to die on your terms for two beautiful reasons (your sons Oliver and Avery). This last gift you courageously gave them with the support of Cynthia and me initially; and then ultimately your father and stepparents, is the most precious gift a dying parent can leave their child. 

Oliver and Avery and Cynthia are surviving because of you and your decision. They are not only surviving my son; but they are doing what you so hoped they would; they are healing; and growing in spirit and mind and body; and they are thriving. But they miss you every moment of every day. 

Losing you to death felt like the world would never get darker, but when Cynthia came to me two months after you died and explained that she needed to move home to Bathurst to be close to her mom and dad and family, even darker moments were yet to come. I knew it was my turn to let go of any expectations that I could fill the void for Cynthia’s need to be with her own family. And some unconditional love and support was required of me as she relocated to her hometown and family with Oliver and Avery. 

And my worst nightmare of losing you, and then Oliver and Avery and Cynthia became my new reality. But you also know that in moving home to Bathurst Cynthia was able to begin to breathe in and out again and start to let you go. As she heals so do Oliver and Avery.   

You had to choose to die with the assistance of MAID far sooner then any of us were ready to say goodbye. But I now believe you knew that in leaving us on your terms you spared your sons and Cynthia the deep sorrow of watching the father and husband they knew and loved, cling to life in hopelessness. You saved them from nightmarish memories that would haunt their minds and heart and spirit forever.  You saved them from having to walk to the edge of death with you terrified as they helplessly watched cancer destroy your body and mind to no avail. 

The wisdom in your choice of how to die will sustain us forever. Amazingly your sons already speak of death and dying as a natural part of living. They miss you beyond words Aaron, but they are so proud of you. They will forever carry the knowledge that for them, you let go of life on your terms.   

Aaron your sons are going to be okay because of your sacrificial decision to leave us as you did.  

After a late fall, dark winter, and sorrowful spring, summer 2021 arrived, and we were finally able to travel to be with Cynthia and the boys in Bathurst. As we made the twelve-hour car trip from Kingston our anticipation was palpable. And when we pulled into the driveway of Cynthia’s new home there stood Avery waiting patiently for us. Swallowed up in hugs and tears and laughter we were once again family. The week was exactly as we had hoped it would be; and you were at the heart of every moment. Oliver and Avery miss your physical presence constantly; as do we all; but you seem to be just around every corner. Just out of reach, but ever present. The boys hearts ache for you; but their hearts also have moments of laughter and joy and mischief and much love for life and for all that is ahead of them. 

Avery at 10 years of age reminds me so much of you. He has a strong physical resemblance to the child you were, and he continues to wear his heart on his sleeve. He is a gifted public speaker and works a crowd with confidence and much humour. He adores Cynthia and is extremely protective of her and her needs. And he is still constantly wanting to please his big brother Oliver, who has not yet been able to acknowledge that need. 

Oliver will be 13 this spring; and his body is that of a slim, tall young man. He too is developing your broad shoulders and muscular upper thighs. His dark complexion, eyes and hair are yours; and yet he is his mother’s twin. Just like you Oliver is happiest in his own head and space. And like you his roots to Kingston and all that was are strong. But he loves Cynthia deeply and he is working hard at pleasing his mother by trying to make Bathurst his home. 

How precious it is for me to be able to write you this letter of hope Aaron. There is so much more I wish to share, and someday I make put pen to paper and write of my grief journey and how your passing has altered me. But for now, know how intensely loved you are; and how I will never stop missing you. 


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