My MAID ‘grief sisters’ hold me up when no one else knows what to say
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in the First Person column, Globe and Mail, Feb. 27th, 2023. Bridge C-14 is grateful for Lori and the Globe and Mail's permission to share this as a Bridge C-14 blog post. Thank you Lori for sharing how special your 'grief sisters' truly are - we are so honoured to have played a part in creating this community of support for all of you.
I have never met them in person, but I love them all, my grief sisters. We are Zoom comrades, coming together once a week to laugh, cry and talk about life after loss. Ours is a particular loss – our husbands all received MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying). We all walked our loved ones to the ultimate door. Our stories vary in the details, but share this one fact. This one fact connected us instantly, the moment we met in our grief support group last summer.
A MAID death is very particular. It is scheduled, and preplanned. The chosen hour looms above all else, ticking like a hammer in the brain. For some of my grief sisters, that hour was changed at the last minute, causing much trauma. It takes all one’s courage to face that hour – it is not something the system should trifle with. For others, myself included, that hour came with frightening precision.
Some of our husbands were track one, with foreseeable deaths looming; mine was track two, under the new Bill C7. This means his death was not foreseeable, but his suffering was intense and constant, with no respite in sight. Either way, the five of us know what it was like to go through the process: the application, the two doctors’ approvals, the choosing of the date, the provision itself.
In my case, the doorbell rang twice, once for the nurse, and half an hour later for the young doctor, his face swallowed up by a PPE visor. Each ring was surreal, like a peal from the depths of Hades. Every bone in my body wanted not to be moving toward that door, but move I did. We had an appointment with death, one my husband had fought hard for when none of his physicians would support him. The doctor’s black bag contained both relief and dread, the magic concoctions that would end the suffering and life of my husband of 35 years.
Later, I will hash out the details of that hour with my grief sisters; how I followed the doctor to the bedroom where my husband lay waiting, ports in his arms, my eyes fixed on the black bag that sailed down the hallway like a crow. How I could not feel my feet touch the floor. How we formed a circle around him on the bed – me, my daughter, and two stepdaughters, all linking arms, fingers squeezing hard, our fear palpable. How my husband cracked his last joke – musing that he’d always dreamt of having four beautiful women in his bed. How the nurse and doctor chuckled and the mood lightened. How I sucked in my breath when the first vial was administered and my life changed forever. This first formula tranquilizes and its effect is instantaneous so that even before the lethal concoction is administered, your loved one is gone. I will share with my grief sisters how, in that instant, his expression changed from pain to peace for the first time in a decade. And how, at that moment, something inside me also let go, and lilted from my body. How the death took much longer than I expected; a faint heart beat still present after three or four doses, and the doctor opted for an additional one. How it made me sad that part of him was still fighting, and later, much later, I was afraid he was still alive while we waited far too long for the van from the funeral home to arrive.
They will listen to my story with no judgment, and I to theirs, each of us adding to it week after week, as though we are building houses made of memory, of trauma, but also of love.
I have been amazed by the bond that has formed between us, even though we are spread out from Nova Scotia to British Columbia. When the official 10-week support workshop ended, we carried on, unable to fathom a week where we didn’t see and talk to each other. When one of us is low, the others lift her up, not with platitudes, but with a deep sense of caring and understanding. This kinship has been unexpected and vital to my recovery. When their four faces pop up on my screen, I am instantly soothed. It is the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like part of a team. I’d take a hit for any of them.
I find myself thinking about them as I go about my day, wondering how their first solo trip has gone, how the solo bathroom renovation is taking shape, how they faced their first solo Christmas – did they ever find the strength to put up the tree alone? How is the sorting out of their husbands’ things going? By necessity, I had to do mine quickly, right away, which was hard, but sitting amongst their husbands’ possessions is equally painful for my grief sisters.
We joke about meeting up at a villa in Italy, Tuscany perhaps. We will be Shirley Valentines, living under a Tuscan sun, drinking cheap red wine, watching muscular young men weed the villa garden, shirtless and tanned in the sun, fuelling fantasies of the new lives we might one day build. We will ride rusted bicycles past olive groves and pick up cheese, prosciutto, and tomatoes at the local market. In the evening, we will curl up on the tiled terrace and share our hopes and dreams for our altered lives, while Tuscan cows low in the distance.
For now, here in my new apartment, in my new city, I look down on the city lights and think how I don’t know a single soul behind any of the twinkles, and feel so alone. I write my grief sisters and they write back, reminding me I am not. They are with me. They understand the struggle to rebuild, to redefine, to feel solid again. And the lights take on a different hue.
Lori Weber lives in Dartmouth, N.S.