Volunteer spotlight: Jon and Linda

Personal Stories | August 12, 2022 | Dying With Dignity Canada

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A photo of Linda and Jon

Dying With Dignity Canada’s longevity and success is due in large part to the many volunteers who work on the local and at the regional level. We have Chapters across the country powered by people passionate about end-of-life choice. 

Throughout the year, we will be highlighting the stories and contributions of DWDC’s volunteers, and what motivates them to give of their time to our organization. This is Jon and Linda’s story.

Tell us about yourselves

Linda: The foundation and greatest satisfaction of my life is my four daughters and 10 grandchildren, ranging from 5 to 21 years old. My favourite activities include sharing time and meals with friends and family, enjoying the outdoors, and spending time at a cottage in the Gatineau Hills as well as a cabin on Gabriola Island in B.C. 

I have a Masters of Social Work; my career has been in working with families through child protection, counselling, parenting courses and mediation. I continue to work part time and I am very involved in an initiative to steer families going through the painful process of separation toward safety, emotional supports and collaborative services. 

Jon: I am Ottawa born and raised and have lived here all my life apart from my university years in Montreal and Toronto. I practiced law here in Ottawa, and ultimately retired as an arbitrator and mediator. I have a daughter in her 30s, and four grandchildren whose parents, my partner’s children, asked me to stand in as grandfather for their deceased grandfather on their mother’s side of the family. I have volunteered since my early twenties, starting as a Big Brother. Over the years, I was active in a political party, a couple of cultural organizations, an environmental organization, a community association, a palliative care unit in a hospital and now, and probably finally, DWDC.  

Because I am fully retired, I spend more time enjoying my hobbies such as gardening, bicycling, skiing, walking, playing bridge and reading. I have the pleasure of spending two months in the summer on a beautiful west coast B.C. Island, Gabriola, where the days are usually sunny and warm, and evenings pleasantly comfortable – and no biting insects! I enjoy travelling although getting to and from a destination is making travel, particularly by airplane, less and less attractive. I am a DYI handyman, with results of varying success and some damage to fingers and hands in the process. 

Please share with us any lived experience you may have with assisted dying or end-of-life care

Jon: I became familiar with palliative care when my late father and then my late wife spent time in palliative care settings before they died. At the time MAID did not exist. 

How did you become involved with Dying With Dignity Canada (DWDC) as a volunteer? 

Linda: Jon got me involved with DWDC. Volunteering with DWDC has been a wonderful learning experience in a new area of need. When Jon and I first got involved, Susan Desjardins and Susan Harrison were with the Ottawa Chapter executive team and were stretched thin adding Advance Care Planning workshops to their many DWDC duties. Susan Harrison – now our Chapter Chair – trained us to give the workshops and it has been fun combining our different perspectives.  

What I enjoy most are the small group discussions and the continued learning from the experience and knowledge of our participants. Personally, it has forced me to do my own Advance Care Plan and involve the family – not without some good-humoured resistance. 

Perhaps the aspect of DWDC I am most passionate about is MAID legislation and broadening choice, respecting that individuals know their anguish and their needs best. I see MAID as a compassionate answer to unnecessary and unbearable suffering. Just knowing they can qualify for MAID if the time comes goes a long way in reducing anxiety for someone faced with a grim end-of-life diagnosis.  

I joined the Advocacy committee and chaired it for a few years; I am still a member. I am also working with a committee of other volunteers, women who are well-informed, articulate and knowledgeable about the subject matter and have amazing advocacy skills. I am learning so much from them. I enjoy the way our group really supports and encourages each other. It is satisfying to meet people who share a passion; it is so enriching to get to know them. 

Jon: I heard about DWDC when I read about a panel discussion concerning MAID and I attended the event. I thought DWDC’s local leader was an articulate and intelligent person and decided that because I supported its goals I would get involved in the organization.  

I volunteered as a witness for MAID applications and subsequently was asked to join the executive committee. When the person who delivered Advance Care Planning (ACP) presentations decided she would like to have someone else available to do them, I volunteered. My legal background seemed to fit with the nature of the presentation, as over the years, I had made hundreds of wills and powers of attorney. The Powers of Attorney for Personal Care are very different than the documents I drew up 20 years ago; back then it was just ‘no heroic measures’ but today we can be much more specific.  

I continue to sit on the Ottawa Chapter executive committee and deliver the ACP workshops. I take considerable pleasure in the workshops, which I present with my partner Linda Ogle. It has changed since we started, and with the advent of online presentations, in some respects, has become more intimate than the in-person presentations.  

I have done an ACP presentation on the radio for people living in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and also appeared on a DWDC national panel discussing ACPs. 

The pleasure of the Chapter work is the interesting and intelligent people I have met through this involvement. I was involved in the development of the Chapter Manual with a committee of dedicated and smart volunteers. 

What changes would you like to see to Canada’s assisted dying law and why? 

Linda: We have seen, and perhaps had a part in, changes to the legislation that we believe to be positive. We continue to work toward further advances that the polls show most Canadians want; this includes advance requests for MAID and allowing MAID for those who qualify in the place of their choosing. 

I continue to volunteer because I believe that no group of people should be summarily and paternalistically deemed ineligible; the decision to end suffering should respect the individual’s unique experience and desire assessed by the experts who really hear them and care about their well-being. 

Jon: I would like to see Canada’s MAID laws require ALL hospitals and palliative care organizations, whatever their religious affiliations, provide MAID if they receive public money. I would like to see advance requests enacted into law so that Canadians who suffer some sudden and unexpected accident or illness that robs them of their mental capacity to qualify for the procedure.

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