In Celebration of Dying Young

It has been almost three years since my forty-one year old husband received an assisted death. But that is not what I want to speak about as my fingers hit the keyboard.  Over a week ago, I was contacted by a young man who lives in another part of Canada. His name and much of his context are things I want to protect, even though what you might do with them can no longer hurt him.  This young man reached out to me because he had listened to a podcast I recorded regarding Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID), for which he had already been approved. 

In the course of my few conversations with this young man – I will call him Will – I came to learn that there would only be medical professionals at his death. He had fought hard to receive approval for this relatively new Canadian right, and in the process had created boundaries with many of the people in his world so as not to deal with their opposition. Like his name and life story, how I supported Will is also not what I am writing about today.  

Death is all around us at the present moment. Covid is taking people we know, or it is feeding fears of our own death. For me, Will is a reminder that death can be a celebration, even when the circumstances argue otherwise.

Will lived with a disease that brief research shows me, can be carried into your sixties.  Will was barely twenty but the pain he lived with was intolerable.  This pain was likely what garnered him approval for MAID, and it was also what made it difficult for him to communicate with me in writing. He explained early on that he was using voice activated text.  

I am not a medical professional, but I will boldly say that I have some expertise regarding MAID because I have lived it, and because I have chosen to speak for it after having been witness.  For me, one of the most striking elements of the MAID assessment process is that it can involve a frailty test.  Put rather simply, a frailty test is like asking, “Would ‘they’ survive without this?”  My layperson understanding is that such a test is applied when someone with numerous decades under their belt is being considered for an intervention such as a particularly gruelling surgery.  

MAID has brought terms such as “grievous and irremediable” and “reasonably foreseeable” into my more common vocabulary.  To date, both are critical in the MAID assessment and approval process. But in the last year, a young woman in British Columbia has helped us open MAID criteria to those whose death is not necessarily reasonably foreseeable.  Julia Lamb’s court challenge has earned her – and other Canadians – the right to choose an assisted death “even” if they can go on living for the near future.  Julia put this right in her back pocket for later, but I have to wonder if she did not open the door for my young friend Will. Given his age, I would assume that Will’s frailty assessment would have made note of the fact that he had only just entered his twenties.  

I was able to confirm through social media that Will is dead.  For several hours afterward, I found myself carrying a deep sadness. What struck me when I paused was that I had picked up the sadness of the posts I had read, and yet I was not. Sad.

For me, Will’s death is a celebration.  He was given space and the right to step away from his pain, just as my relatively young husband did.  And so as I move forward, I am reminding myself of the peace I felt in the moments and days after Beardo died. And I am offering Will that peace too, as I celebrate what he gifted this world in his twenty-odd years.  

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