Love’s Connectivity: Reconnecting with Don Ayre

Personal Stories | November 3, 2023 | Don Ayre

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A photo of Jean and Don Ayre

In 2017, Don Ayre participated in the Dying With Dignity Canada blog. He shared his wife Jean’s story about choosing an assisted death, combined with their love story of over 50 years. Jean’s positive way of living and her courageous end-of-life choice motivated Don and their two children, Ramon and Anthony, to write a book, “The Power of Love’s Connectivity.” The book is still very relevant – even though the legislation has changed since Jean’s assisted death in 2017 – so when Don reconnected with us at DWDC, we decided to catch up with him.    

 “I’m 88 years old now and retired but I remain curious and active. I have always been writing books and articles, it seems. One, to sort out my ongoing learning, and two, to pass it on as relevant. It’s my “Love’s Connectivity,” I guess. 

I have self-published eight books with various publishers including Amazon, so it was natural for my two boys to encourage me to write a book entitled, “The Power of Love’s Connectivity” about Jean and her choosing to die with dignity. I’m still writing or at least attempting it. I have been battling cancer these past 10 years and have recently had three major surgeries plus several sessions of radiation therapy.  It was my cancer what brought Jean and me from our home of 46 years to an assisted living community where I now live by myself. My latest title is more of a comfort to me than anything else: “Cosmic Consciousness and the Purpose and Meaning of Aging.” I hope to complete it soon, but it’s been slow going without Jean.  

The boys and I are very close. Ramon and Anthony are both doing great, wrapping up their careers but still involved in their work. My five grandkids are all in their 30s, and I have eight great grandchildren. One of Ramon’s daughters has three children under the age of five, including a set of twins, and another set of twins on the way; so, everyone is doing well and busy!  

A photo of Ramon, Anthony, Don and Jean.

It was a quantum leap that we all took when Jean and I found each other. Having completed three degrees at the University of Manitoba, I was working and studying in the United States when Jean and I met on the elevator at Family and Childrens Services of Pittsburgh where we both worked. I was directing a research project there and Jean was working in the steno pool. We were both recently divorced and timing was everything. The metaphor for us was, “I’m going for a ride, are you going to get on or not?” It was a leap of faith but also it felt just right.   

Regardless of the complications, we eventually were able to move to my hometown of Winnipeg where we both could be remarried more comfortably, and I could adopt the boys. Both Jean’s parents and mine were supportive. I accepted a teaching position at the University of Manitoba and we moved in with my parents initially. They helped us get to know people in the community better and were great advocates on our behalf.  

I think what’s most important is openness. Everyone is learning and making adjustments in life, so if you are open and aware of what is going on you are able to deal with it in the moment. Jean and I were very much in love; we took every day as it was. We encountered intolerance, racism but also understood that many people in Winnipeg had not had many Black people in their community before. We moved forward in our way as a mixed couple, and trusted that people would find their way around it because we were open.  

 Also, I think there are natural laws underpinning what we do in life, and you have to go with the flow to some extent. Jean had heart problems for years and we had been going from one doctor’s office to another so not surprisingly, we had been talking about choices at the end of life and wondering about the possibilities. By 2017, Jean was in a great deal of pain.   

The short of it is that we ended up at a local hospital where we were met by two young doctors who first stabilized Jean and then talked to us very plainly about her options. She was in the process of dying, they told us. She could be admitted indefinitely into the hospital for comfort care; she might eventually go home with palliative care; she may want to consider being assessed for medical assistance in dying (MAID). I was not surprised that Jean wanted to learn more about MAID. It goes back to being open and talking about difficult situations. It was harder for the boys, but we included them in one of the MAID assessments so they could better understand their mom’s decision.  

Jean was admitted into comfort care immediately by the two young doctors and was in the hospital for three weeks. Afterwards, she was able to come home with full palliative care, including oxygen and nursing availability 24/7. At the time, her life expectancy was three months but we managed nine wonderful months together as a family before Jean decided to die at home with family and friends. 

I can’t believe it’s been six years since Jean’s MAID provision, but it’s a good reminder that life is so very precious. My book, “The Power of Love’s Connectivity,” has had some great feedback from around the globe. I think it has helped many people navigate the MAID process, and I hope it continues to.  

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