Just a thought… I lived my whole life following others’ wishes. Let me follow my own wish in my death. [Shon Mehta]
Unless you’ve been extremely fortunate, you have loved someone who has died by suicide; in my own family, a close relative has attempted to take his own life at least twice in the past few years. The struggle to save him, to make him want to live, continues.
Monday marked World Suicide Prevention Day; I’m not accidentally late to this topic. I wanted to wait a few days to offer a view on the subject that does not echo the sentiments of hope and encouragement that was shared by so many who used the hashtag on social media. There’s another side to dying by suicide, though (we are asked never to say “committing” suicide, as it casts blame and shame) and it’s one that has come into my life twice in the past few years.
Once in the case of a friend who helped her father to end his life (through Medical Assistance in Dying at his fervent request) and another in the form of an e-mail that came a few weeks back when I urged people not to wait for a special day to enjoy the sweet moments that life has to offer. Here is what Barbara wrote and I thank her for allowing me to share it with you.
Just over a year ago, my BFF Sharron was diagnosed with a very aggressive cancer. A horrible prognosis with a life expectancy of maybe two months. Maybe not. She chose medical assistance in dying (MAID). After taking her to the second doctor (three doctors have to examine records independently and agree death is imminent) and hearing how aggressive this horrible disease was taking over my dear friend, I supported her in this decision (and I went in determined to persuade her to fight). Approved by all three doctors and a date was set. (There is a cooling off period).
A few days before, Sharron said, “wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a dinner for all my close friends!” Another friend and I decided we would make it happen the next evening in Penticton BC. A few friends drove in from Vancouver, most from Osoyoos, Penticton, Summerland and Kelowna.
Sharron came in, dressed to the nines (all 80 pounds of her) made up, obviously uncomfortable but glowing. Her closest friends. There were only a few of us that knew the date was set, but it was obvious to all Sharron would not be long on this planet. ALL her friends paid tribute to her, and she continued to glow.
Three days later, Sharron’s day of death came. The doctor came about a half hour before the time planned. We talked (another friend and I were with her; she had asked a few others but not too many were comfortable with it). He took her into the bedroom and determined that yes, it was still her decision to die, and called Cindy and I into the room. He explained that the injection would take about five minutes, she would fall asleep and pass on immediately. After about five minutes, he said Sharron, tell me again about your dinner. She said it was wonderf ..” and passed. So her last memory was of this wonderful dinner where her friends said to her face, what normally would be said at a wake. It was so beautiful to know that was her last thought.
Now .we know that will not happen that often, so I try now to tell friends and family such things, how much they mean to me, how I love them, remember special moments
And that is my story.
I miss Sharron but am at peace knowing the suffering is over.
Thank you again, Barbara, and I am sorry for the loss of your dear friend.
I’m not sharing this story to change anyone’s mind if their opinion is that medically assisted suicide is not a decision they would choose to make for themselves. I happen to be grateful that it is an option and, although I hope not to have to make that decision for myself one day, it comforts me to know that one’s suffering does not have to be endless and extreme. Your opinion may be different and I respect that. I told Barbara that I expected some people to have different opinions and she responded:
Blowback for sure, but I wonder if any will come from someone who has been with a loved one in the last stages of a horrible disease, watching the suffering, frustrated when even morphine on demand is not working. When a strong heart keeps beating keeping this person in absolute agony.
So glad there are choices.
I share it perhaps to shine a personal perspective on something that we’re reading and hearing more about. The arguments can be loud and include valid points on both sides, in my view. But, like Barbara, I believe we should have choice over our own bodies and lives and this is the ultimate decision. And I am grateful to Barbara for sharing Sharron’s story. Would that we all could leave this earth on our own time and in our own way. At least that’s how I see it.