John Shields was a man of God until he left the church at 31 in search of “spirituality and higher consciousness.” In his new life he became the leader of the Canadian labour movement, fighting for the rights of working class Canadians.
At his kitchen table, he methodically broke the yolk of his over easy eggs over rice and beans and smeared the golden goo. It seemed a heavy task to lift his tea pot and pour the steaming water into his cup, but he took pleasure in the small moments.
Before he died, he planned a living wake among his friends and family at Hospice. They shared stories of how he had impacted their lives, legends of a man who’s impact would be long felt, as he laughed and chimed in jovially from his deathbed.
Before he died the next morning, he scanned the room with his eyes and asked, “Are we ready friends?” Thirteen minutes after the first medicine was administered, he was gone.
June Vaile, 80 December 14, 1936 – June 7, 2017
An interior designer and divorced single mother of two, June Vaile had taken many long-term partners over the years but was single now, save for a collection of frog statues, collected over years of traveling. “I was always looking for my prince,” she said with a laugh.
A showcase to her talent, her home was immaculately decorated. Several dozen pink roses sat in a vase on the coffee table. The bridge set and knitting she once used to pass the time had been tucked away for some time. As we talked, the new puppy she’d purchased in the time since her diagnoses plodded into her shins. Her other pets had died months earlier and she didn’t want to spend her final days without a companion.
Everything changed in June’s life when she closed the book she was reading one evening, went to sleep, and woke up the next morning with a serious decline in her visions. The condition quickly progressed to near-total blindness until finally she could no longer do any of the things she loved. Playing bridge with her friends became impossible. She drove until it was so dangerous that she would start to panic when she got behind the wheel. Eventually she could no longer go for walks.
Losing the ability to drive was the biggest turning point in her descent.
For June, independence was more valuable than life itself and the culmination of these losses plus her new reliance on a caretaker meant the beginning of end. “My life lost almost all its meaning,” she said. “Everything I’ve done in my life has been visual.”
In her 30s, June had been a Dying with Dignity activist but the legislation legalizing medically assisted suicide that passed in Canada in 2016 didn’t apply to blindness, so June considered her terminal colon cancer diagnosis a blessing. “I was always prepared to deal with it myself, she said. “I was always ready with my suicide kit.” But she was scared to mess up and end up in a worse or further debilitated state. Her new prognosis meant she wouldn’t have to take her life alone.
“I couldn’t lose myself and continue on, even if I had not been diagnose with a fatal illness,” her voice quivered. “I don’t know how much longer I could have gone on now anyway because my life really because of the blindness,’ June died two weeks later, as scheduled, with her family by her side.
Eve Mcleod, 62 Apr 22, 1955 – May 23, 2017
Remnants of travel lined the walls of Eve McLeod’s small home— portals into the past of an ambitious, well-traveled woman who set out to see the world every chance she got since she was 18. For that reason she did not have a bucket list by the time she received her diagnosis of 4th stage pancreatic cancer with a 2-3 month prognosis. She spoke with resolution about her love for her home, her garden, and friends, and the feeling that her life was winding down.
When we met Eve, she was washing the windows inside her house as yellow light poured through the streaks. She moved around the house effortlessly. To come across her as a stranger, you couldn’t have guessed she declining rapidly from a cancer that would kill her in a few short weeks.
Her house was packed with her the furniture she’d inherited from her adoptive mother the year before. Like their personalities, the pieces matched perfectly: candlesticks affixed to the upright piano, an antique hairbrush on the dresser, a clock face encrusted with pearls. She and her mother had a uniquely tight bond that translated even in their belongings. Their connection made her mother’s death in September of 2015 all the more devastating for Eve. She described feeling helpless in the absence of good care during her mother’s last days. Now that she was facing her own death, the lack of tender care and respect she witnessed then was helping Eve outline the way she wanted her life end.
When the time came, she wished for a simple death in her own bed with the French windows open to her garden where snow drops and silver leaved thistles bloomed. The headstone and plot were purchased and the funeral was planned. The Medical Assistance in Dying forms were signed and completed on her kitchen counter. “It makes it easier on everybody,” she said. “There’s 10,000 good things and 10,000 bad things and really I can just remember the 10,000 good things in my life.” In the end, Eve died from complications of her cancer, without the need for medically assisted suicide.