As a hospital chaplain in Ontario, I had been privileged to support patients and their families through the MAiD process. I considered myself lucky to be able to advocate for those who wished to retain or regain some important control in their life by being able to decide when they will die. But that experience only slightly prepared me for the emotional rollercoaster ahead when my husband, John, was diagnosed with stage four esophageal cancer and told me he absolutely wanted medical assistance in his death.
Before we even talked about treatment, John was clear about how he wanted to die. That was hard to hear because at that time all anyone else was thinking was how we had to fight this terrible disease. It wasn’t that John wanted to die–no, he wanted very much to live–but he was certain right from the start about what he didn’t want. I can’t say that I was shocked; this was John through and through. But I was shocked that this was happening to us. Suddenly, I found myself in the shoes of the family members I had supported, struggling with their own denial of the reality of the diagnosis confronting them, and at the same time trying to catch up with our loved ones who were miles ahead in their own decision-making.
One night, not quite four months from diagnosis, with radiation and chemo treatments tried and abandoned, John said he’d had enough. Although I had backed his decision to be assessed and accepted in his MAiD request, suddenly it was here. It was going to happen. It wasn’t just an idea anymore. I was willing to give it some more time, to cherish those good days that made suffering through the bad days somehow worth it. But John was ready and I had to catch up and get on board.
We set a date for two weeks hence, and I got my head around that and we felt settled and at peace. Then, just a few days later, John’s health took a turn and it was determined that he was actively dying. I had a feeling that with everything settled, John felt secure enough to begin to let go. I contacted our MAiD provider and their response was compassionate and immediate. I am so very grateful for the newly added waiver of consent clause because, by then, John was no longer able to affirm his request for an assisted death. All of this happened far sooner than I had planned but, more importantly, it happened just soon enough for John. His passing was peaceful, at home, and with me holding his hand.
After John had died, I thought about how different grief from a MAiD death could be for families. Certainly, there were people I felt I couldn’t share our full story with for fear of judgment. Surely, I thought, there had to be a support group for those encountering this special and sometimes isolating kind of grief. My search led me to the Dying With Dignity folks who pointed me to Bridge 4 You. The support I received here was just what I hoped for: being able to talk with someone who had experienced what I had, who understood the complex emotions before and after MAiD. I’ve since recommended Bridge 4 You to the MAiD families I have cared for in our community’s health network. This is such important and helpful work you do. Thank you, Bridge 4 You volunteers!