Donor spotlight: Lydia’s story
Personal Stories | April 28, 2021 | Dying With Dignity Canada
Dying with Dignity Canada’s supporters are passionate allies in the defense of human rights. Some choose to raise awareness by sharing their personal end-of-life experiences, others volunteer at the local level with one of our regional Chapters, send a letter to decision-makers, act as an Independent Witness for medical assistance in dying, or give a gift to advance our mission.
Throughout the year, we will be highlighting the stories and contributions of DWDC’s donors, and what motivates them to give so generously.
This is Lydia’s story about her mother Doreen, and why her family supports DWDC.
How long have you supported DWDC?
We have supported the concept of MAID for as long as I can remember. We were unaware of the growing support nor DWDC, the organization, until about 3-4 years ago.
What motivates you to support DWDC?
We believe no human should suffer through a painful end of life if it can be avoided, and especially not if it solely benefits those being left behind. In our opinion, every human should have the right to decide when and how they will die.
How do you support DWDC?
We made a financial donation after our Mom had a MAID provision here in Canada. We will continue to do so yearly as long as we are able. We are also writing this blog in the hopes our story will help others with their journey.
Doreen’s journey to MAID… our mom knew what she wanted for decades
Doreen – what a woman! A vibrant, five feet one inch, fiery redhead, full of inexhaustible energy, she seemed to think and move “in 4th gear” 24/7. She had an exceptionally quick mind and a strong empathetic soul. It’s no wonder, our Dad, her husband of 63 years, was mesmerized by her.
As children, my 5 other siblings and I have vivid memories of our mom telling us, “if I’m ever unable to communicate or being kept alive by machines or if I have no quality of life, take me out and shoot me!” As kids, we laughed and looked at each other questioning what that really meant.
Then, our eldest sister suffered a traumatic brain injury after a car crash at 17 years of age. We all saw her comatose for two months, then wake up and re-learn how to talk, walk, and overcome paralysis. It took 18 months. We then understood something else our mom always said to us as teenagers, “you dying is not what I’m worried about – that’s not the worst thing that can happen to you.”
As adults, we saw Mom’s ailments start to burden her more and more – painful arthritis and fibromyalgia. Then followed the knee replacement gone wrong, and a hip fracture, and her ability to walk taken from her. By the age of 78 she had been in chronic pain for over 10 years and was wheelchair bound taking multiple pain medications. The days all blended together for her. Private nurses were hired, taking loving care of her for 8 more years.
Our Dad passed in 2017, but his last 10 years he kept her going with conversation, loving debate, bickering, and encouragement to move.
We first heard of medically assisted dying around 2016. Brief research showed it to be available solely to patients with an imminent terminal diagnosis who would be required to re-affirm their desire themselves on the day of the procedure.
All of these years with no terminal diagnosis precluded our mom from opting for the one thing she had always wanted. Instead, she was required to endure the pain, the meds, the nursing care, and resulting low quality of life. Then came our heartbreak as our mom fell from bed and broke her hip a second time, and then fell from her wheelchair and suffered major bruising and injuries. She became more and more frail due to lack of mobility, and still there was nothing we could do to honour the request she had consistently made of us over the past several decades.
Just prior to her 89th birthday in March of 2020, along came the global pandemic. At this point, our mom was in an assisted living facility with our private nurses supplementing the care provided there.
Unfortunately, the pandemic-initiated protocols at the assisted living facility that removed our ability to have private nursing care for our mom. Her already limited quality of life evaporated. Her interactions with PPE–covered care workers that she couldn’t recognize, and the restrictions placed on visitors – none allowed – left her unable to see us for months. Nurses assisted with Facetime, but our mom was only sometimes able to hear us and unable to work the iPad alone.
After months of weekly tele-medicine visits with her doctor, we were referred to MAID.
The MAID doctor came to assess our mom and immediately agreed to jointly approve her for MAID.
At this point, our mom’s body was slowly shutting down and limiting her ability to speak, but she could still listen, read, and acknowledge her preferences for things. So, we began the process of discussing her wishes with her and the new option that was now available. It did not take her long to acknowledge she wanted this but took a while longer to select a date for the procedure.
I decided to write her a letter. I wanted her to know all of the things I thought about her and how she had shaped my life, loved me so completely, and had been a true inspiration to me.
Receiving this letter brought her tremendous happiness and she asked me to share it with my siblings. I understood immediately that she hoped they would be inspired to write her similar letters with their thoughts of her.
One at a time, each of my other 5 siblings sent her their letters. My brother read them to her, and she held them and re-read them every day for the next several weeks. Upon receipt of the 6th letter, she consented to a date for her MAID procedure.
From this moment until her selected date, there was one fear that lingered every moment: what if Mom deteriorates between now and then and is unable to reaffirm her wishes? This one element of the law, as it was then written, could strip her of her wishes and leave her alive and suffering – it still pains us to think about that.
On Friday, September 18, 2020, I went to my mother’s bedside along with four of my other siblings, and our eldest joining via Skype.
The assisted living staff had groomed and dressed our mom, even let her put on her own lipstick one last time (something she always did!). When we arrived, she was sitting up in her bed holding all of our letters. She was elated to see us (even with all of us in full PPE) and joyous to be having her wishes finally fulfilled. We were filled with gratitude.
The nurse had come the night prior to insert two butterfly IV ports – one in each hand. Normally, our mother would complain about IV’s, but she didn’t complain at all that evening. She knew it was a means to getting to the end she was so desperately seeking.
When the doctor arrived that morning, she explained the procedure to our mom – that the first medication would make her drowsy, and the second would slow her breathing and eventually she would stop breathing. The doctor specifically told our mom, “you will die.” She then asked our mom if that was what she wanted. Our mom simply stated, “yes.”
Our mom looked at all of us with a small smile and did not shed a tear. My sister and I held each of her hands, another brother knelt at the end of her bed and gently caressed her feet. Our mom could see our eldest sibling via Skype on a laptop. Our other two siblings stood bedside. With all six of us there, she acknowledged she was ready, and the doctor began the injections.
Our mother died feeling loved, fully at peace, and on her own terms. As tears flowed behind our masks, and with the most overwhelming sense of relief, we all hugged, and then waited for the coroner and removal of her body.
We have been filled with gratitude for the closure this gave us and the relief and happiness we feel at knowing she died the way she wanted to. We all got to say goodbye and tell her everything we wanted to say in those very special letters we each gave to her.
Our one regret, that the law prevented our mom from acting on her longstanding wishes years earlier, which would have avoided so much of her pain and suffering.
Losing a parent is never an easy thing but watching them suffer for years on end is so much harder.
We carry the joy every moment of the selfless act of love we demonstrated to her by being with her when she chose to die with dignity, a right we believe every human being should have.
With gratitude to DWDC for their tireless efforts,
Doreen’s Loving Family