I knew the day was coming when I would be asked to sign as a witness to my friend’s signature. It wasn’t just a signature on a page. It was a signature on a MAiD (Medically Assistance In Dying) document.
MAiD is a difficult decision one makes for oneself. Signing as witness to someone who has made that decision can be a difficult decision. When first asked to sign, I found myself going back about forty years ago.
Mom wanted to have ‘the conversation’ with me. She had many health issues and wanted me to know her thoughts on dying and her wishes. We had ‘the conversation’ again – the day in her doctor’s office when he told us that Mom’s kidneys had failed and she would have to go on dialysis, immediately.. She made it very clear that she would not. She expressed a hope that the Canadian government would let people who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness, make the decision as to the timing of when they would die for themselves in consultation with their doctor. Mom didn’t get her wish. MAiD was not legal at that time.
My husband, Hans, was born in the Netherlands, where they had their own equivalent to MAiD. He had researched it, was a supporter, and we had talked about our respective final wishes before we were married. When Hans had his first cancer diagnosis, we revisited our early discussion about it. With his second cancer diagnosis, he wanted his doctor to know his wishes and that if the prognosis was terminal with more pain and incapacitation, he wanted to be a candidate when the law was passed in Canada. With his third cancer (terminal esophageal cancer) a few years later, he knew that the extreme pain he dealt with each moment, would get worse as the cancer continued to spread. There was no quality of life for him: he couldn’t swallow; he couldn’t speak above a whisper; he was exhausted. The pain was not being managed. The time had come.
He reminded me that his wishes remained strong and steadfast and that if he couldn’t be granted his request in Canada, he wanted to go to the Netherlands where his request would be granted. And then he reminded me of our experience with Shandy, our rescue-dog.
Shandy, our beloved King Charles spaniel, had been in pain for quite a while, and while the medications helped somewhat, pain was her daily, ever-increasing experience. The morning we put her favourite cookie in her mouth and she didn’t know what to do with it, we were at a complete loss. The vet diagnosed it as ‘canine dementia,’ told us that her kidneys had now failed, and asked us what we wanted to do.
There was no quality of life. Shandy wasn’t eating. She was in emotional distress. She was deaf and partially blind. She was in constant physical pain. Could we love her enough to let her go?
Hans and I talked it over that day. It was Friday. An appointment was set for the procedure to happen the next morning. I argued “Monday. Can’t we have her with us over the weekend and have it done on Monday?” My wise husband let me talk and cry it out, and we talked some more. And then I heard myself say “Let love speak.”
By rescuing her from a terribly cruel situation, so very long ago, we had given her love and a life of freedom from pain. Could we give her love and a life of freedom from pain now, even if that meant we would no longer have her with us? As difficult as it was, we knew that it was our time to give Shandy the gift of unconditional love. “Love spoke.” I will never forget Shandy’s eyes as she sat on my lap and we drove to the veterinarian’s office the next morning. Usually, on the road and at the vet’s, Shandy was agitated. Not that time. This time, she was quiet. It seemed that somehow, she ‘knew’ and she was at peace.
Each time I sit in a doctor’s office and am asked to sign MAiD papers, I remember my mother. I remember Hans. I remember others. I remember Shandy. And each time, as I sign the papers, I know that the motivation is clear … “Let love speak.”
I signed my friend’s paper. While I pray that it won’t come to that, I know that should such a time arrive when he chooses to go the final step, I will ‘let love speak’ and support him in any way I can.
And, should such a time come when I make such a decision for myself, I pray that others will ‘let love speak’ and support me in my decision.
“Let love speak.”
© June Maffin
This is a photo of Shandy – beloved canine companion who died October 10, 2009 and who will not be forgotten.
Rest in peace little one. Rest in peace.