Not Just a Statistic
Editor's Note: As part of our Bridge C-14 "5 year anniversary month-long celebration", we asked members of our Bridge C-14 community to share a few words about their MAiD experience and the impact of Bridge C-14 through their grief journey. Today I am so grateful to be able to share the following with you. Thank you, Manya, for your beautiful words and for honouring your mother-in-law in this most special way.
When the date had been set and the clock started ticking, I found myself in auto-pilot mode. I had been my mother-in-law’s confidante and health care manager through the almost five years she had been living with a severe autoimmune condition. In some ways, her MAID application appeared to be the logical finish line to a journey I had supported for so long, fighting for the best possible pandemic care options. But in other ways, the MAID process appeared sterile, purely administrational, and very technical. The cornerstone of our close-knit family seemed reduced to just another case, a number in the statistics. To me it felt as if our decades together were about to be erased within minutes. No one seemed to really care about the story and the person behind the application.
The emotional load on my husband and our adult children was aggravated by a strict Covid visiting ban in the retirement home. I felt I needed to hold space for my mother-in-law, the patient, as well as for her son and her grandchildren. So for myself, personal grief was not an option yet. I had intended to make really good use of our little remaining time together. But instead, I was working through a seemingly endless list of things to still get, observe, organize, and do. Simply spending time with one another was not meant to be. We were left to phone calls. Instead of sitting with my mother-in-law, I ironed a blouse that she had once tailored herself and picked for her final attire. Her only concrete last wish were many flowers. I remember how I frantically bought all spring flowers her favourite florist had available on that February day.
When you know that the finish line is that near, you are able to keep functioning. On top of that, there is this gut instinct to be strong for the other people involved. Then the day came, the day of the unknown and the known, and it went, as they say, well. With it came yet more organizational work and a wave of exhaustion, raw grief, leading towards the big void of her final absence.
I wished there had been a MAID fairy who would have said: “We will make the phone calls for you, we will run your errands, we will keep you and yours fed and hear you out, and here is what to expect.” But there is no MAID fairy. As a matter of fact, at the time of the application, we were unaware of a single official support source. I was lucky to have close caring friends and a private lead to someone with lived MAID experience. I also remembered a friend of a friend who had trained to be a death doula and worked in a hospice. Google and these few phone conversations were the only preparatory resources for us at this point. I am a very rational person who likes the reassurance of preparing well. But this was something I could never feel adequately prepared for. I ended up with a queue card in my pocket, just in case, and something to eat should I be about to faint. I did not need either.
I had been told to inquire with Dying with Dignity for other means of support, and that is how I eventually ran across Bridge C-14. It took me almost a year after my mother-in-law’s death to even start considering being part of an actual Bridge C-14 session. As an introvert who is not exactly enthusiastic or too comfortable about Zoom, the thought of sharing such intimate experiences with “strangers” in a videocall format seemed daunting to me at first. However, I soon started to appreciate that the pandemic way of sharing virtually from a distance can also make it easier to actually reflect and process. The built-in “buffer” of the screen can make the exchange less raw, I find. When I signed on for the Bridge C-14 ten week Peer Support Group program, I frankly did not anticipate it to be as beneficial as it turned out to be. Through guided readings and sharing what had been similar and different about our experiences, I learned a lot about my own grieving process and the way my fellow bereaved were dealing with their losses. We found that many of us struggled with the same issues.
Our unique MAID journey brings us back to previous farewells and death experiences in our lives. To learn how others are addressing these profound feelings is very beneficial. In the Peer Support Program I ran across extraordinary friends, partners, and daughters of individuals who chose MAID. Over the course of these ten weeks, as we exchanged memories of our loved ones, we became a small community, and our deceased went back from being just cases to being the person who had shaped our whole live. I found describing and explaining the challenges of the lead-up to MAID as well as the actual loss to be an important step towards being able to grow from it. You can only describe something that you have at least begun to process. Giving words to the feelings was an important step for myself. Some of us still chat regularly online and exchange their trials and blessings. In an era where Covid has limited grieving in a community so drastically, I have learned that virtual grief processing can indeed be worthwhile. Misery does love company, and grieving is helped by community. If you are reluctant about trying a virtual support group, like I initially was, please feel encouraged to give it a try. You will find an alliance of people who have found helpful ways to process their journey.
Submitted by Manya Brunzema, Bridge C-14 Member