Stories

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Sharing moments to learn, share, and heal

The Bridge4You Peer Support Program launched officially in April 2021 and merged with Bridge C-14 as a stand-alone program in April 2022.

 

We strive to provide compassionate support and peer connections with trained volunteers who have “lived” MAiD experience. 

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Many people have had to accept the loss of a loved one, expected or not, and many have witnessed suffering. I watched as my dad battled against bowel cancer. He went from healthy and hardly a sick day in his life one day to cancer with a prognosis of 5 years. He died in just over 4. He utilized MAiD on July 25, 2018. It was by far the most courageous thing I have ever witnessed. It was such a gift to my dad that he could die with dignity on his terms. His final words were to the MAiD physician, saying what a wonderful thing he was doing and to “keep going with this amazing work.”

Now looking back I really wish I’d had someone to talk to along the way before my dad utilized MAiD. I think it would have been a relief to talk to someone who really understood my fears, my anguish, the ticking clock, to ask questions, or just to have someone to listen.

My dedication, to supporting others through the MAiD process, is lovingly dedicated to my dad, David Novak, and my dear friend Clarissa.

Evie

I was stunned when my husband, who had multiple sclerosis and lung cancer, suddenly told us prior to the arrival of the palliative care team that he wanted MAID. He said he had been thinking about his death for a while. There was no talking him out of this clear decision. He was in charge and we respected his end-of-life choice, as hard as it was to hear. At that time, we had nobody to talk to about what it was like to have a special person in one’s life who chose MAID. We had questions – lots! What might be helpful to know that I hadn’t thought about? What could I expect from this end-of-life procedure? Was it normal to have thoughts and feelings that galloped in every direction? We had no one who had experienced this kind of ending with whom we could talk openly. I only wish Bridge4You had been available for our family to just chat freely with someone who understood this kind of ending and had walked this last unforgettable walk.

Susan

I have had several opportunities to support various family and friends through their end of life journeys. All were very special and profound experiences but I am so incredibly grateful for having had the chance to support my Aunt Sarah through her decision to choose a medically assisted death in May of 2018. Prior to choosing to pursue a MAiD application, Sarah’s life journey might not be considered unique amongst the many elderly Canadians who live into their 90s. After a series of falls, Sarah begrudgingly entered into long-term care and our feisty, independent aunt slowly became increasingly confined to her bed. After hearing her sad laments that she had not wanted her life to end up in long-term care, I tentatively and with great trepidation mentioned the possible option of looking into MAiD as it had just been legislated six months prior. Although Sarah expressed gratitude for my having initiated this delicate conversation with her (much to my relief), she stated she didn’t feel inclined to pursue it “but was glad to know it might be an option.” 

It never came up again until 18 months later when I received a call from Aunt Sarah’s long-term care home that she had asked for a MAiD application. It was truly an amazing journey my family and I were grateful to have experienced while supporting her through what were the final three weeks of her life. We were able to bring her to our home on a beautiful, warm spring day where she was provided MAiD in our garden. 

One thing that would have made the journey easier would have been the ability to access emotional support from family or friends with lived experience. As MAiD was under two years old at the time of my aunt’s death, there were no established support networks when I inquired. For that reason, I was very keen to step up as a volunteer with Bridge4you! 

Dave

My beloved wife died on the 1st of September 2020, via MAiD. Annie was a passionate artist and she loved her family, and me, with almost as much passion. Her leaving came to us relatively quickly, at just under two years. She’d had a very successful elective surgery at the end of October 2018, which thrilled her. It required a general anaesthetic, and the only downside of the whole procedure was a frightening experience she had with the anaesthesia (that experience was a source of many questions over the following months). Three weeks after that surgery, I noticed she was slurring some words, but we didn’t think much of it other than wondering if the anaesthetist had damaged something during the intubation.

In January 2019, she experienced some abdominal pains, but they went away after a few days. They came back in March, and this time they did not go away. She had emergency surgery at the end of March to remove an intestinal blockage. Definitely not cancer, the surgeon told us.

Four weeks later, we saw the surgeon for the diagnosis. After some preliminaries about diet and so forth, the surgeon asked, “Now, are you ready for the really bad news? You have a very bad cancer.” Annie had stage four colon cancer. Her prognosis was anywhere from two to five years, assuming she had chemotherapy. She became palliative right away. We were freaking out. The system connected us with hospice, and we had a visit from a hospice worker. We were informed about MAiD, and that the wonderful rapid-response physician who came to our house after Annie came home from that emergency surgery was authorized to provide MAiD. I can’t express the huge relief we both felt, knowing that she would not have to die in pain. She was advised to have chemotherapy, but she had an art show at the beginning of July and she did not want to start chemo before that.

Meanwhile, the slurred speech worsened. For a few months she could whisper, but speech was disappearing. We had a session with a local speech pathologist who could not help. We saw two neurologists and Annie went through much testing. But in the end, they wanted her to go to the ALS Centre in Vancouver, and we lived on Vancouver Island, so travel, given ongoing cancer issues, would have been difficult. When ALS was first suggested by one of the visiting home care nurses, Annie said to me “If I have ALS, then I’m glad I have cancer.”

Seeing no point in cancer treatment, she focused on quality of life. She spent lots of time in the garden. And she created new paintings and fabric work until a few days before she died. She had completely lost her speech many months before she died, so we could no longer talk to each other, besides her writing notes. The suspicion of ALS was now very strong, as she also had no control over her mouth and throat, and so had great trouble eating and drinking.

In the end she never had a conclusive diagnosis, but the lovely rapid response physician/MAiD provider, and her colleagues, were very sure Annie had Bulbar ALS on top of the stage four colon cancer.

Towards the end of August 2020, her abdominal pains came back, and she’d just had enough. Her death, when and where she chose, on our living room sofa, in the presence of her two children and me, her husband, was the most beautiful and welcome death I could ever imagine. She certainly showed me how it’s done. So incredibly brave.

I could not have asked for a more compassionate treatment from the home care nurses and the wonderful physician who released her from her pain. MAiD was an absolute blessing for us, and Annie’s passing was beautifully gentle and very quick. I would not have changed a thing.

Trish

As a hospital chaplain in Ontario, I had been privileged to support patients and their families through the MAiD process. I considered myself lucky to be able to advocate for those who wished to retain or regain some important control in their life by being able to decide when they will die. But that experience only slightly prepared me for the emotional rollercoaster ahead when my husband, John, was diagnosed with stage four esophageal cancer and told me he absolutely wanted medical assistance in his death. 

Before we even talked about treatment, John was clear about how he wanted to die.  That was hard to hear because at that time all anyone else was thinking was how we had to fight this terrible disease. It wasn’t that John wanted to die–no, he wanted very much to live–but he was certain right from the start about what he didn’t want. I can’t say that I was shocked; this was John through and through. But I was shocked that this was happening to us. Suddenly, I found myself in the shoes of the family members I had supported, struggling with their own denial of the reality of the diagnosis confronting them, and at the same time trying to catch up with our loved ones who were miles ahead in their own decision-making.

One night, not quite four months from diagnosis, with radiation and chemo treatments tried and abandoned, John said he’d had enough. Although I had backed his decision to be assessed and accepted in his MAiD request, suddenly it was here. It was going to happen.  It wasn’t just an idea anymore. I was willing to give it some more time, to cherish those good days that made suffering through the bad days somehow worth it. But John was ready and I had to catch up and get on board.  

We set a date for two weeks hence, and I got my head around that and we felt settled and at peace. Then, just a few days later, John’s health took a turn and it was determined that he was actively dying. I had a feeling that with everything settled, John felt secure enough to begin to let go. I contacted our MAiD provider and their response was compassionate and immediate. I am so very grateful for the newly added waiver of consent clause because, by then, John was no longer able to affirm his request for an assisted death.  All of this happened far sooner than I had planned but, more importantly, it happened just soon enough for John. His passing was peaceful, at home, and with me holding his hand. 

After John had died, I thought about how different grief from a MAiD death could be for families. Certainly, there were people I felt I couldn’t share our full story with for fear of judgment. Surely, I thought, there had to be a support group for those encountering this special and sometimes isolating kind of grief.  My search led me to the Dying With Dignity folks who pointed me to Bridge 4 You.  The support I received here was just what I hoped for: being able to talk with someone who had experienced what I had, who understood the complex emotions before and after MAiD. I’ve since recommended Bridge 4 You to the MAiD families I have cared for in our community’s health network. This is such important and helpful work you do.

 

Thank you, Bridge 4 You volunteers!

Caroline

My husband Reid was such a kind, happy, optimistic man. I was drawn to him immediately. At the time of his diagnosis, he was (as they say) in the prime of his life. At 55 he was healthy, accomplished, and athletic. Ironically, he just felt so lucky to be alive.  We had worked hard in our careers and planned an early retirement. We had such big dreams.

Just before we realized those dreams, in January 2018, we received devastating news.  Reid was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour, a glioblastoma. Our world fell apart as the doctors’ words rolled off his tongue. We began grieving from that very first day. That evening in the hospital bed, we had our first discussion about MAiD.  Reid wanted to have some control over his destiny, and I was fully supportive.

We continued to live our best life, squeezed in a trip to Iceland, even climbed a couple of mountains.  But after several bouts of chemotherapy and a gruelling round of radiation, it became apparent that Reid was no match for the disease.

Early in December 2018, 11 months after his diagnosis, the day I had been dreading arrived. Reid decided he was ready. I felt as if I couldn’t get enough air. It literally hurt to breathe. As many times as I had rehearsed the conversation in my head, I wasn’t ready.

MAiD was arranged for the following Monday and that week became the longest week of my entire life.

On the morning of his death, we all gathered in the bedroom and each took turns telling our stories. Reid giggled, laughed, and cried as we all gave accounts of our favourite memories of him.  Everyone had a different story to tell, they were all individual, and all beautiful. It was an unbelievable experience.  Then, as his favourite rock music played softly in the background, I heard the kids tell Reid how much they all loved him, and quietly, comfortably, he slipped away.  In that moment I was completely happy for him – happy that he was able to have the death that he had imagined. He died in my arms, in his own home, surrounded by his family.  He would have said he was lucky.

Reid didn’t want to die. I knew the anguish, the sorrow, the love for a life he didn’t want to leave. But I think knowing that MAiD was an option, that he didn’t have to suffer needlessly, was a great comfort to both of us leading up to the day. 

The only thing missing in my journey was someone to talk to, somebody who had been there, someone who really understood. I was surrounded by kids, family, friends, and medical staff, but I had honestly never felt so alone or so afraid. 

Troy

I live in Alberta, I am Métis, and I have experienced the loss of both of my parents due to lung cancer. They both chose to have an assisted death. My mom died in 2017 when the legislation was less than a year old with a little more than three weeks between her diagnosis and death. She was in excruciating pain during that time. My dad died in July 2020 five years after his diagnosis. Being present with them both, along with my extended family through those powerful times, has bonded us in more ways than I can describe, and cemented my connections to the Métis Nation.

In the moments when this was all happening though, I was so busy with getting my own head around the concept, the impending loss, the rules/processes about MAiD, and the practical caregiving and running to my parents’ sides that I know that I missed some important reflection time for myself.

I think having the support of Bridge 4 You would have been extremely helpful to me if it had been available because:

  • I didn’t know what kinds of questions to ask anyone. I felt very alone. especially the first time.

  • I worried how much to talk about MAiD in case it was seen as influencing and that others would judge my parents for their choices.

  • I would have appreciated talking with someone who understood that this is not just a legal process but a very human experience first and foremost.

As a Bridge 4 You volunteer I look forward to listening to anyone going through assisted dying with a loved one, who needs someone to talk with, who has been there.

Robin

My family and I knew for months that my dad was considering a MAiD death, but that didn’t make it any easier when we found out a week in advance that he had chosen a date.

I still remember the day he first mentioned his plan and how it felt to me as though all the air had been sucked out of the room. Over the course of several months, my dad brought the subject up with my siblings and me a few times, which I interpreted as his checking whether he really did have our support. And he did, completely. I wasn’t ready to think about losing my dad, but I wasn’t about to challenge his right to make this decision either.

My dad had a lung disease and part of his reason for considering MAiD was that people with that illness essentially choke to death, and naturally he wanted to avoid dying that way. As well, his illness was causing his overall health to deteriorate quickly and it made breathing and even talking very difficult. Even so—despite him having raised the topic a few times and knowing he was increasingly unwell—I assumed the end was further away.

I should have clued in at one point that he was getting closer to being ready. On Mother’s Day, he sent me an email (because that was how my dad communicated about difficult things) telling me how proud he was of my kids and of me. “I’m proud of all you’ve done,” he finished, before signing it with the usual, “Love Dad, XXOO.” I week or so later when my brother called to tell me Dad had chosen a date to go ahead with the procedure, it all clicked into place – that message, some of the other things he had said to me around that time, and a health issue he had decided not to have addressed. He was getting ready to sign off.

In the few weeks before he died on May 27, 2021, my dad’s health continued to decline. In the time we spent with him in that last week once we knew he had chosen a date, it was clear to me that he was ready to go. I wasn’t ready for him to go, but I respected his choice and am incredibly grateful that I was able to support him through the process.

I do wish my family and I had been able to find better support for ourselves during that time. I’m thankful that my family and I were there for each other, but I really could have used someone to talk to who had been through it and could let me know what to expect. Now that I’m on the other side, I hope to be that for others.

Suzz

My husband was a police officer and paramedic and witnessed countless people suffering and experiencing tragedy. He would often say, “There are worse things than death.” It was an uncomfortable statement for me that I never quite understood until our lives changed with his own illness. He was diagnosed with glioblastoma – brain cancer. While recovering from surgery he had a massive middle cerebral artery stroke. He came home two and a half months later not being able to walk, stand, talk, read, or write. He was on a G-tube and required total care. I took care of him for 15 months. It was devastating. It was traumatic. Our lives turned upside down. In a complicated and broken home health care system, I quit my job to take care of him. He required total care 24/7 and could never be left alone. Before our lives were infected with glioblastoma, we had an incredible, full, adventurous, successful and beautiful life.

While he was able to gain some speech back and get off the G-tube, he was left with many deficits and little quality of life. His comprehension and intelligence were intact and he was acutely aware of everything. He was essentially trapped in a body that was no longer working with the ability to only say a few words.

When two areas of concern showed up a year on brain scans later, along with increasing headaches and seizures, I asked the question that no one would ever want to ask someone they love. “Do you want to die?” He was able to say, “Yeah.” I asked him if he wanted me to get the information on medical assistance in dying and he said, “Yeah.” Quality of life was everything to him and the reality was death was going to happen. I attempted to advocate for him to be assessed and was immediately told that because he couldn’t read or write he wouldn’t qualify. I have a background in crisis counselling and advocacy and I knew I had to dig deeper in the system to be heard.

It wasn’t a simple process for his situation. There was a systematic panic of not knowing how to deal with his particular case and disabilities while ensuring that protocol was followed. I had to spend a lot of time wearing the advocate hat with very little time or support to process that he was going to die. MAiD is a unique experience and I fully support allowing someone to die with dignity, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t still painful. My husband had already suffered enough and he wanted to die before the glioblastoma completely took over his brain. Thanks to getting approved for MAiD he was able to.

While I’ve navigated through my own healing and grief, I felt the call to become part of the community that identifies the need and importance of supporting individuals through MAiD with compassion, understanding and shared experience.

The week before my husband died, he was showing signs of decline. He was experiencing short-term memory issues and he forgot he was dying on the day of MAiD. When I reminded him that he went through the process of being assessed for Medical Assistance in Dying to allow him to die with dignity, he remembered and smiled at me, put up his arm, flexed his muscles and said ,“Yes!” with such pride and empowerment. Being able have access to MAiD did not take away days, it took away a horrible ending.

“There is an urge to carve one’s name on a tree. To say I was here and this meant something; and it matters.” – Quote by Jason Silva, (filmmaker, futurist, philosopher, and public speaker)

My husband is no longer here but I will continue to carve his name (so to speak) in everything I do as I move through this life supporting others who walk this journey. 

Marianne

I was not surprised when my Mom announced to me, after first hearing about MAiD, that, “If it should ever become necessary, that’s what I want to do!” My siblings and I often heard during our teenage years when Mom was working on an Alzheimers unit in a care home that she didn’t want to live like that. She felt that maintaining dignity was of the utmost importance, as well as continuing to have a reasonable amount of quality of life. Less than six months after our MAiD conversation, she was diagnosed with cancer, and approximately one month after that she used MAiD, in the spring of 2017.

The thing I struggled with the most was trying to wear many hats at the same time. At the time that my Mom was diagnosed, I was working as a palliative care nurse making home visits to terminally ill people. I soon found that I was juggling a lot – trying to advocate for my Mom and fulfill her wishes, using my nursing knowledge and experience to troubleshoot situations and to manage her symptoms, and also support my siblings. I realized afterwards that I hadn’t taken care of myself, and had pushed aside many feelings, thinking, “Well, I have dealt with similar situations so many times at work, this is just the same.” But it wasn’t.

A few months after Mom died, I was contacted by one of the social workers who were involved in Mom’s MAiD. Two of them were planning to start up a support group (the first in Canada!) and she asked if I felt the need to take part in this, if it would be helpful. I am so glad that I did, and found it extremely helpful to talk with others who had experienced the MAiD situation with a family member or friend. It helped me to realize that the feelings I had were normal and the group members were very open about sharing their feelings and situations, which varied enormously, of course.

After the 10-week session was completed I felt that I could hopefully help others who were struggling with various issues surrounding this extremely emotional and sensitive time in their lives. This led me to become a bereavement volunteer with Palliative Manitoba, and ultimately to volunteering with Bridge 4 You. I hope that anyone who has come to this site looking for support will reach out and connect – we are here for you!

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“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

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