Mary's Fuller Story

Wildlife News


May 15,  2017 –  MARY

Mary:   Brave, courageous indeed – but here is the real Mary! 

As most of you know, my Mary passed April 13 using the new Canadian Law to assist “Aid in Dying”.

I first want to thank the hundreds of individuals who have sent me personal emails, phoned, sent cards and the many more who have posted condolences on our web site and the various digital media.  Your heartfelt comments on how Mary had been a beacon of love and strength at every turn are quite incredible.  I so appreciate your kind and loving words.  I apologize for not responding back personally to all of you.  I have been running on tears for weeks.  Mary fought for the laws to legalize Aid in Dying much of her adult life.  I will try and give you some insight that drove her “bravery and courage’’.  (Following this review I have posted the brief two postings relating to this issue so I am not restating everything for those who have followed closely.)

My one regret about this whole issue is that I had only 15 years with Mary, so another of my human failings is now feeling sorry for myself.  I have lost my best ever friend.  Mary approached this all a bit differently. Sure we have nearly two years of almost nightly crying, each I am sure focusing on slightly different interpretations of the issues involved in bringing about her sudden almost complete physical incapacities and the consequences.  Reminiscing was a nightly tool.  Mary’s spirit animal was the eagle. When she was program chair for the local newcomers this meant she could invite “The Eagle Man” to give her group a talk. That was it.  Our hearts were intertwined.  So it will be no surprise to anybody that eagles played an important role in our first 15 years and even more on reflection.  She recalled our second date in the Vancouver Landfill.  She even remembered the 1620 eagles we counted that day.

 


Another night Mary would review our wonderful adventures from the high arctic to Antarctica, nearly a year of world cruising, visiting with Komodo Dragons or trying to make sense of the artificial world around us in Dubai, or 1000 visits to eagle nests, the very bird that had brought us together.  Every night ended with “squeezed hands as she spoke of her spirit watching over me”.   My response was, “With every eagle I will see you”!

Many of you know of Mary as the ‘super athlete’; tennis every ‘non-pouring day, and double-black diamond downhill skiing in the winter, sometimes both the same day!  Somehow, additional to the above, she constantly encouraged me and accompanied me on eagle studies, attended more of my evening lectures on eagles and conservation with constant endorsement than most humans could tolerate and got dragged around the world to view wildlife more than most people could endure.

She also maintained, passed her 80th birthday, almost a full daily load of clients, most in need of some kind of trauma therapy. People suffering depression, bullying or insensitive partners or a ‘system not responding to their needs’, drove her onward.  I never met anyone who annually supported more good causes than Mary: be it one of many Societies for helping women or a conservation organization.  She annually gave a huge sum to our HWF, constantly touted the Council of Canadians and her hero Maude Barlow, or her over 30 year support for the various iterations of the Aid in Dying Society,  trying to give solace to those supporters of people committed to debilitating terminal diseases.  Here was my Mary.  Yet this summary topic, so often discussed in past years, was not a permitted topic for those final-days discussion. Mary saw so many care-givers as the real heroes, or unrewarded crutches, of society. This was at the heart of Mary’s mind; would she become a drag on her friends, on society, on the ones she loved?  It did no good to discuss good care homes should she become a bit more incapacitated or, heaven forbid, her most dreaded option - dwindling mental capacity in a palliative care home.  She had always wanted to die with dignity in her home surrounded by those she loved.

On June 6, 2016, almost a year ago, the CBC News broadcast one evening had a quite mention that “Aid in Dying” was now the Law of Canada.  Mary looked up at me as we were having dinner with a ‘kind of knowing smile’ on her face and reached across the table to squeeze my hand.  For the past few months she had said she thought her degradation was happening so quickly she wondered if the Government would be acting in time!  I was still thinking recovery.  The conversations of having to go to Switzerland to die, as many Canadians had taken, were now past.  More prophetically, the ‘theoretical’ discussions of this topic instantly changed to a different level.  For me it instantly went from trying to provide help for others to being, “Am I about to lose my loved one”!?   Damn, it is hard to not be selfish.

For those of you not familiar with the legal process it is quite simple. This Government Assisted Death is only for people facing severe suffering and imminent death, likely within 1 year in British Columbia and within 5 years within many other Provinces.  Suffering can be from physical pain or mental pain brought on by physical incapacity. Paramount is that, unlike signing up with your physician that you don’t wish ‘extraordinary life-sustaining treatment’, if you are determined to be suffering near-mental incapacity, to qualify for “Aid in Dying” you have to be mentally competent right to the final moment of receiving the final injection.  If the attending doctor does not find you mentally competent they cannot administer the drugs.  This decision is not for the uncommitted, nor easily manipulated by the bad intended.

At one of her family doctor appointments before last year end she surprised both me and her doctor with, “How can I initiate this ‘Aid in Dying’ process as a safeguard if my conditions get worse?”  The doctor simply passed it off.  This did not seem to be the long-term planning he supported!  At the next visit she again pushed the question sufficiently that our doctor had to say he would look into it.  At the next meeting he said he had not found a doctor yet to assist but was working on it.  It was not a long time later I was re-reading aloud to Mary the full 70 page Government of Canada document on Aid in Dying when, at the bottom of the page, we noted that in our region of BC the administrative body was Fraser Health – already our interface with existing Parkinson’s treatment.  I phoned this office, was given a return call the next day by the Aid in Dying Department and the doctor interviews were initiated.

What we thought would be terribly difficult became a sensible few fact filled meetings with two doctors who we/she did not know.  They repeatedly outlined the options of this route, namely that palliative care was today not going to let the dying suffer, what other options and assistance was offered to the terminally ill etc. etc.  (Please see the Government of Canada web site:  https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/medical-assistance-dying.html) In short, the whole process was very compassionately handled.  Now of course it is fair to remind readers that Mary and I had followed and supported the arguments of this Aid in Dying for many years.  Here now in law was the actuality of what Mary had truly believed in and supported - for her a very satisfying realization that the government had enacted the very laws she had supported.

Certainly Mary was driven by several things.  First she wanted control on where and how she died.  She did not wish to be away from her family and me and she wanted to die at our home.  Her biggest fear in losing physical control was that she would soon be experiencing further loss of mental capacity. That doctor assessment of her mental capacity would determine if she was sane and was qualified to give her final agreement for dying.  This actually added urgency to getting the situation organized and approved.  Once a person qualified, that person was then totally in charge of when the ‘passing event’ would take place.  It could be in the near future or months away. The key was that once the applicant was approved she still had to have full mental capacity to understand the impact of the decision - re-questioned even on the last day!  Being prepared and organized was what Mary was about.

Her dying day was as she lived – upward, planned and purposeful, full of strong, loving, caring and humorous discussions – and particularly hugs and squeezes to the last moment.  In the month prior to her set date Mary wanted to see her ‘vast files organized and where necessary shredded, her private possessions passed on the personal close friends, and most importantly to talk with her friends, many who went back to her university days when she was graduated as a physical therapist or those at the next stage who were classmates and co-workers after she graduated with a MSc in Counseling and calming the mind.  Half of these were also retired locally!  Then of course were all her local associates, her tennis and skiing friends and then the wonderful friends and supporters who knew her through the Hancock Wildlife Foundation – our eagle friends.  Mary was already so weak she could not read or write and her best output was about 1-2 hours of an in-house helper (for a bath and office shuffling!) or talking with a family or friend about twice a day.  This meant she could only touch a few of her great list of friends. Some came in personally to visit those last two weeks, many phoned but an hour of this twice daily was totally exhausting to her.  Her plan was for me to send out her announcement, with approval of my supplement, on the day after her passing.  She felt if she did this before passing, and spoke with so many more people, she would simply not have the energy for the final day.  On that day she also wanted to personally say her good byes to about 20 locals at a 1PM gathering at our house.

Thirty-seven wonderful friends showed up at 1PM and all just crammed into the living room and adjacent halls while Mary ‘ruled’ from her chair in the corner. (I was so sorry to turn so many wonderful friends away on that last day simply because of our small living room and her stamina.)  The Good-bye Party was totally awesome and totally Mary. She would ask each speaker, everybody present, to say a few words about the next person they would introduce – not about her!  Ha Ha!  This was her one failing big time.  EVERYBODY talked about Mary, a personal anecdote, an incident of how she had brought inspiration to their life or about some joyous moments they had shared.  If the person got into too much gushing about Mary she interrupted with, “and who are you now introducing?” and the next speaker spoke. I had never seen Mary control a board meeting but perhaps this was another talent honed from dealing with one-on-one interviews with clients - keep the interview and her good-bye party on course!  She did this with such grace and laughter that only more admiration evolved as Mary determined ‘you had said enough’!  As planned at 3PM the wonderful friends were gone.  This left only Mary and our family.

The nurse arrived at precisely 6:30 as planned. He was wonderfully sensitive and factual and had her lying in bed with the dual needles placed in her veins.  At 7PM the doctor arrived.  We knew she had to repeat questions about options, assess Mary’s mental capacity and during this she totally alleviated our worries about the final process - three injections. The doctor said that Mary would simply go to sleep.  After some minutes a lethal drug would be injected so Mary did not wake up.  Our kids and I gathered on the bed holding her, each saying how she had so improved our lives and how much we loved her and would miss her.

Then the doctor interrupted politely: “Mary, this is your last chance to change your mind.  If you don’t wish to go forward with dying now all you have to do is say, “No I don’t want to die”, and I will go home.  One son quietly said, “Great, Mom, just say no and we will all go home happy”. The other son asked a profound question: “What are your thoughts about what is next?”  To this Mom simply stated that she hoped the injection worked and would not be painful. Then, “Doctor, please go forward with the injection”!  The doctor obliged as Mary continued, “I have had the most wonderful family and husband.  I was so lucky.  I love you all. “    Mary was asleep 46 seconds after the first injection. Her body did not move a twitch and it was not because I was holding her tightly and not wanting to let go.

And for those of you who have not been through this routine I will pass along some painful yet cherished moments.  Part of the pain, but also the ultimate relief, was that during the past 14 months on many nights when Mary went to sleep her body began to twitch and thrash.  The arms would flail and her legs would often kick higher than she could have imagined herself capable when awake.  She might even scream.   A few moments later she would be fully awake, fully conscience and her face questioning why I was sitting above her looking anxiously at her.  She did not think she had had ‘bad moments’.  Her failing body was simply responding to further degradations totally unconsciously.  Certainly a personal fear for Mary was that she would fall, break a bone and be unable to be at home.  So no surprise that Mary wanted to be in control, to die peacefully at home with our kids and me at her side and that is precisely what happened, just after 7Pm as she planned on April 13, 2017.

My greatest silent fear was that Mary’s body would go into contortions as she went to sleep. Could I/we have held her down?  How would her sons handle this?  Would she re-awaken and question why we were looking at her?  Forty-six seconds after the first injection she was asleep, four minutes later her heart stopped pulsing.  Seven more minutes of our crying and the doctor said she had passed.

But as some of you might suspect, Mary’s bravery & courage  was not solely routed in saving herself suffering and months of depravity and frustration from loss of control.  It was not about her.   Sure, few people were more independent and active than had been Mary, but Mary’s bravery and courage was not exclusively rooted solely with already loosing her physical functions.  It was about why she had supported ‘Aid in Dying’ for so many years of her very active life.  Many of her clients were the family care-givers, the people she first-hand witnessed suffering for months and sometimes for many years as a loved family member or friend lingered between consciousness and unconsciousness suffering and causing more family suffering than Mary, as councilor, could often mend.  The wounded or sick were surely dying, but Mary could see that the living care-givers were suffering even more and for much longer.  Caring for other human beings was what Mary was all about, the real meaning behind her ‘bravery and courage’ right to the very end moment.

From her great friend, her true supporter and very honored lover.

David                                                  May 15, 2017

PS:  As requested by Mary we are having a private ceremony with our family plus Susan & Mark and Rosana & Christian – her stalwart supporters to the end to spread some ashes in our pond, into the Salish Sea and below her favorite eagle’s nest.

NOTE:  during Mary’s life she annually donated ‘individual nest support’ to qualify as a nest supporter for “all nests and for all her life”. However, she did not wish this to be known.  From now on it will be honored - a HWF tribute to our inaugural Director and Secretary-Treasurer and most ardent supporter, a person who truly believed in and lived an ecologically sustainable life, a person whose spirit soars with eagles.

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