My wife, Vicky, had a heart attack in 2015 that she never covered from. She had a rare form of coronary heart disease called prinzmetal angina. For the next three years her heart continued to fail even with five trips to St. Paul’s hospital in Vancouver and numerous visits by ambulance to Sechelt Hospital. Then in June 2018 she applied for MAID (medical assistance in dying) and was accepted after receiving the go ahead by two different participating doctors.
This was a time period of the greatest emotional and physical trauma I’ve ever experienced. Little is ever discussed about the care giver’s suffering. We’re supposed to grin and bear it because of the love we feel for person we are caring for. However the stress endured watching a spouse die is unparalleled in intensity. Waking up in the morning to start the process of care, assuming sleep was possible, with the only relief being death itself, is an experience I would not wish on anyone. This may sound callous but it is also the reality faced by both the person dying and the one doing the caring. No one wants to talk about death and yet is the only constant in life after birth.
For the next two months after the MAID acceptance, we prepared for Vicky’s upcoming passing. A year before, upon her insistence, we had already prepaid her cremation. The first thing she did was start writing her own obituary and a speech a friend would give at her celebration of life. Vicky told me she was doing this but would not share the content. She did not want to upset me. Vicky said she knew I would be distraught after she was gone and so didn’t want me to have to arrange anything. She began giving away her clothing and jewellery. Some went to her sister and friends, the rest to the Sunshine Coast Healthcare Auxiliary who she was president of until the heart attack forced her to step down.
Friends and family began arriving in droves to say good-bye. They all cried and Vicky consoled them. I finally had to screen calls as they were beginning to exhaust her. These last two months she slept a great deal because of her body not breathing well and the fatigue of staying alive as her heart slowed down.
She showed everyone who knew her the art of dying gracefully. During a stay at Sechelt Hospital, Vicky had an NDE or near death experience. She told me how a voice had spoken to her telling her there was nothing to be afraid of, this was not her time but to prepare for that eventuality. If she ever had a fear of death, it vanished on that occasion. People were amazed at her courage and fearless, peaceful demeanour. As far as Vicky was concerned, she was just being her natural self. She was ready to leave, to be free of a body that no longer gave her quality of life.
At one point, about a week before her death, she called me over and asked whether I was okay with her decision to die. She insisted this was my decision as well since we were married. What could I say? I loved her and supported her totally. I hated to see her suffer. Yes I would miss her but watching her in this state was far worse. I had known her as a vibrant active woman whom Vicky wished she still was. Now she could barely walk from the bedroom to living room with a walker and oxygen hose following.
When August 30th arrived, the day of her death, three friends, her sister and son arrived to be with Vicky when the doctor administered the death med with the help of a nurse who set up an IV. I held her hand throughout and we all even joked and laughed as if this was just another ordinary day. Yes tears flowed when Vicky was pronounced dead by the doctor, but shortly after I became aware of the incredible love and peace in the room. The feeling was palpable and would linger in the home for weeks after. Also remained was relief that my wife was no longer suffering and the stress that I had endured for the past three years caring for her had been released. Vicky’s body died that day but she has never left me. I almost feel as if she is writing this article!