My Journey With MAiD
My mother, Ruby, started asking me about assisted suicide, as she called it, in the spring of 2021 after a neighbor with A.L.S. took her own life. With an arrogance borne of ignorance, I told Mom that in British Columbia the super stringent regulations applied only to people with terminal illnesses.
Over the next several months, Mom kept asking, and I kept putting her off. I honestly didn’t believe she’d be eligible because, although 94 and suffering from congenital heart failure and anxiety, she didn’t have a terminal disease like cancer or A.L.S. I figured it was her anxiety talking and did everything in my power to deflect her questions.
When she told healthcare workers that she wanted to end her life, no one mentioned M.A.i.D. Instead, they reacted with horror and sent her to psychiatrists and therapists, and prescribed medications that didn’t work, and talked of admitting her to a psychiatric ward.
It wasn’t until I met with the staff at Hollyburn Manor in West Vancouver that I found out about M.A.i.D. and that Mom was, indeed, eligible. While discussing Mom’s care, I made an offhand comment to the manager: “Mom’s always asking about assisted suicide, but of course she can’t do that.”
“Oh yes, she can,” came the reply.
“The rules recently changed. Your mother is definitely eligible for M.A.i.D.”
The manager went on to tell me that several residents had taken advantage of the changed rules and that, in fact, it was becoming common.
I was stunned. I’d never heard the acronym M.A.i.D. and I wasn’t to know on that July day how big a role it would play in the ensuing months and now, I suppose, for the rest of my life.
For several days, I kept this new knowledge to myself because I knew that if I told Mom, she’d want to find out more. My mother was the most practical, proactive, and no-nonsense person I’ve ever known. She appeared mild-mannered and amenable to others, but everyone in the family knew Mom was the one in charge. She made decisions quickly and decisively and lived with the consequences of her actions without complaint. Once she decided to do something, few things dissuaded her.
I found myself in possession of an extraordinary power. If I kept quiet about M.A.i.D. or deflected any attempt Mom made to discuss it, I’d help keep her alive until she passed naturally, whether in two months or ten years. Physically, she was becoming very weak, but she was unlikely to pass soon, or so the doctors assured me.
If I told Mom what I’d learned about M.A.i.D. and that “she could have it,” she’d want me to find out all about it and get her signed up. But how could I aid and abet my mother’s death? On the other hand, how could I withhold the information she so desperately wanted?
Three days after my conversation with the manager at Hollyburn, Mom had such a traumatic attack that I had to make a swift decision regarding her care. Instead of moving into the lovely one-bedroom apartment in the assisted living area of the facility, as we’d planned, she had to move into the care facility on the ground floor. Mom didn’t want to go there, but I had no choice. To ease the transition, we rented both the apartment and the care home room, and throughout the last two months of her life, I frequently took her up to the “nice place” to look at all her belongings and talk about where she wanted them to go.
After settling Mom in the care home, I finally got up the courage to tell her about M.A.i.D. As I’d predicted, she immediately directed me to get the application. Convinced I was acting like the worst daughter in the world, I swallowed the lump in my throat and downloaded and printed the forms, and then helped her fill them out. I was torn between wanting to talk her out of applying and knowing, in my heart, that her decision was the right one for her.
As the weeks passed, I found to my surprise that I was starting to agree with her. Maybe she would be better off going gently into her good night instead of continuing to struggle. Her physical condition was worsening by the day, she could barely walk or eat, and the anxiety attacks wouldn’t stop.
On the other hand, she still had all her marbles and then some. An educator with a doctorate and also an accomplished artist, Mom took an active interest in the world around her. We had long conversations about my work, our family, her many travels over the years, her crayon pencil paintings and knitted dolls, current events, her latest reading, and more. I write historical fiction and was working on a novel inspired by my great-great-grandmother, a woman Mom had never met but knew through my grandmother as the “old battle axe.” Mom spent many happy hours helping me with my research, marking passages in the books I gave her with green stickies, and discussing plot and character development. Mom was my helper, my friend, and my intellectual support. How could I manage without her?
In late August, Mom met with the care workers and signed the papers. She would “do M.A.i.D.” after my brother’s family visited at the end of September.
I coped by staying relentlessly busy. Regardless of what Mom decided she’d do once the family left, I had my hands full packing up her apartment and disposing of everything that couldn’t fit into her tiny care home room. The family arrived September 22 for what was to be the last week of Mom’s life.
What a week it turned out to be. Mom hadn’t yet given us a date beyond “after the family leaves,” but of course we all realized our time with her was limited. We filled it with joy. One of my two nieces had a new baby—Mom’s first great-grandchild and her namesake. I will never forget the moment when my niece put eight-month-old Morgan Ruby on Mom’s lap. The baby looked up at her and laughed adorably, her little hands grasping at Mom’s glasses. Mom kept saying over and over Oh, she’s so beautiful as her eyes filled with tears. I knew then that Mom would go through with M.A.i.D. She’d hung on for weeks in the expectation of seeing the baby and now that she had, she felt ready to leave us to go see my dad who passed in 2012 and my brother who passed at the age of 65 in 2018.
Two days later, the whole family came to my home on Bowen Island for a final get-together. Mom was too weak to climb the stairs to the living room and needed two of us to help her walk. But she had a marvelous time sorting through what she loved to call the Crown Jewels—a lifetime’s worth of jewelry collected by a woman who loved her jewelry. Her three granddaughters, along with me and my sister-in-law, tried on rings and necklaces, earrings and brooches while Mom told us where they’d all come from. We laughed and joked and had a wonderful time.
And then Mom told us that she’d decided not to wait until after the family left five days later. She wanted to “do it” while they were still in Vancouver because she decided that would be easier for me. At first, I resisted. It was too soon! And then I realized that Mom, as always, was right. As much as I liked to think of myself as strong, efficient, and practical, I was going to need the support of my family at the end. I had my daughter, who had moved home for a few months, and my husband, but I realized the wisdom of having everyone with me on “the day.”
At Mom’s insistence (and you didn’t say no to Mom!), I called the M.A.i.D. worker early the next morning—a Monday—and was given Wednesday at 4 pm as the time. When I told Mom, her eyes lit up and she glowed with an inner beauty that transcended her frailty. Finally, she’d be released from the agony her life had become.
How could I deny her?
I filled those last bittersweet days with long talks, a last drive around the posh neighborhoods of West Vancouver with Mom and my oldest friend to whom my mother was like a second mother, a lot of laughs and jokes, and plenty of family time. The hours passed too swiftly.
Suddenly, Wednesday afternoon arrived. My daughter and my husband, along with my two nieces, nephew-in-law, sister-in-law and great niece crowded into Mom’s care home room. We laughed and cracked jokes, watched the baby try to crawl, sang songs, reminisced, and even took a family photo. Mom presided over everything with a calm and radiant good humor and kept saying how lucky she was to have such a loving family and that she could not wish for more from her long and happy life.
When I told her that “after”, we planned to go out for a nice dinner at a restaurant she liked, she looked up at me and asked, “Can I come?” A second later, she realized what she’d said and laughed. That was my mom.
I can’t yet write about my time with Mom after the family said their good-byes and the nurses arrived. I replay those last minutes over and over in my head and have not found a way to let them go. Perhaps I never will.
People tell me that what I did to support my mom through M.A.i.D. was the ultimate act of love. I have to trust that they are right.
Submitted by Carol Cram, Bridge C-14 Member