My mother controlled nothing about her life in the nursing home during her last years of physical decline. With every loss of dignity she endured, before dementia blunted her perceptions, she wept as I looked on, heartbroken and helpless. I watched her waste away, unable to swallow more than a few mouthfuls, and cry out in pain at the slightest touch. Begging me for help as I stood by uselessly, I swore this would never happen to me. Mom would not have wanted to live like that, I knew, but her deep religious faith precluded any consideration of ending her life voluntarily.
I have no such compunction. Over forty years as a Registered Nurse, I have seen many patients die slowly in agony, over prolonged periods of time. I’ve comforted them and held their loved ones in my arms as they prayed that their dear one would just “fall asleep and never wake up again.” It was a bitter irony when I became a participant, rather than an objective observer, in that tableau. I knew there would be no quick and painless miracles for my mother.
I am a strong proponent of Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) which has been legal in Canada, in a tightly regulated way for eligible persons, since 2016. I am delighted that the federal government is in the process of reviewing the legislation with an eye to expanding eligibility criteria to include utilization of advanced planning directives. In my mind, control over one’s time and method of dying is a basic human right.
I never understood Mom’s resistance to change and her voluntary social isolation. One of the great joys in my life is meeting people in environments different from my own, experiencing other cultures and making new friends in those places. I have changed my living situation many times in my life, sometimes for a job, other times for university education, and once for marriage. On every instance I had no fear of change; each re-location was, for me, an exciting new challenge. Spending five months of every year in a faraway place in the company of strangers who become friends, is a lifelong dream come true.
So as April, 2020 approaches and those five months come to an end again, I realize I feel better. I’ve spent the winter grieving and soul searching. The existential angst I felt at Christmas has receded. Ultimately, I realized that my life at seventy is no different than it was on my last day of being sixty-nine. I can’t control what might happen tomorrow or next month or next year, and I can’t live my life in fear. What I choose to do instead is to look ahead with optimism as I always have. Whatever happens will happen but I’m confident I’ve made adequate preparations to ensure that the end of my life will be the way I choose it to be. In the meantime, I’ll fill my days spending time with the people I love, making new friends wherever I can, seizing opportunities to grow as a person, and planning my next travel adventure.