Life is a demanding taskmistress and she doesn’t play favourites. She hands out bits and pieces to her subjects without impunity. It is then up to that person to decide to accept it as is, or to seize it and make it their own.
Such is the story of Gillian Bennett of Bowen Island, B.C..
Gillian, a trained psychotherapist was diagnosed at the age of 83 with dementia. There is no doubt that Life handed her a whopper of a blow.
Most people, if handed such a heartrending ending to their life would quake in fright. I know I would. After all is there one person out there who does not know someone with dementia, whether they be a close family member or an acquaintance of someone they know? If you haven’t ever had to deal with the ravages of dementia count yourself lucky, very lucky.
Gillian knew perfectly well the ending which was staring her blatantly in the face, but she refused to accept what Life handed her and chose instead to choose how she wanted to die. One thing was for certain; she was not going to die leaving behind only a shell of a body which had long since been deserted by the mind and her life spirit.
In her blog, www.deadatnoon.com, which went online shortly after her death, Gillian eloquently and clearly examines her fate should she let Life lead her to the usual conclusion. She was having none of it. Gillian was going to do it her way so she might spare her family the final, bitter details of dementia.
Her first entry on her blog was made on August 18, 2014 and the opening paragraph reads, “I will take my life today around noon. It is time. Dementia is taking its toll and I have nearly lost myself. I have nearly lost me. Jonathan, the straightest and brightest of men, will be at my side as a loving witness.”
Jonathan, her husband of 57 years, as she indicated was, indeed, at her side when she took a fatal dose of Nembutal, a powerful sedative.
Because assisted suicide is not legal in Canada, Gillian was extraordinarily careful to ensure that her much loved husband was not involved in her suicide in any way whatsoever. In fact, she went so far as to drag her own foam mattress to her favourite spot on the island despite her frail condition.
Her blog is not a cloying, maudlin manifesto steeped in self-pity. Rather, it is a beautiful and cerebral examination of life and death with an unbiased eye.
In her wisdom, she assures readers that her intent is based on logic and much thought and has little, if anything, to do with raw emotion.
“Understand that I am giving up nothing that I want by committing suicide. All I lose is an indefinite number of years of being a vegetable in a hospital setting, eating up the country’s money but having not the faintest idea of who I am.”
I’m not going to argue for or against assisted suicide. I do think, however, that people of sound minds should have the right to choose how they exit this world. Above all, I believe dignity should always be preserved, whenever possible, right to the very end and that dignity should always, without fail, be the guiding force behind such decisions.
I will leave you with Gillian’s final words and encourage you to read for yourself her amazing blog.
“Today, now, I go cheerfully and so thankfully into that good night. Jonathan, the courageous, the faithful, the true and the gentle, surrounds me with company. I need no more.
“It is almost noon.”