Sylvia Henshaw and her husband, Douglas, had talked about death many times before it became an imminent concern.
Henshaw, a retired nurse, says Douglas, a retired doctor, made it clear that he would never want to live with a chronic disease.
“From the time we were young, I knew that,” Henshaw, 70, said from her Berwick, N.S., home.
“He used to say that he would jump off his boat, or if I came home and found him on the floor, I was to go for a long walk and come back.”
That was many years ago. Years before Douglas had quadruple bypass surgery. Years before his stroke. Years before his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease.
But somehow, to Henshaw, Douglas’s wish never seemed like it could become reality.
“I knew what he wanted, but I had never thought that it would happen.”
‘Life got harder every day’
Douglas is one of 31 Nova Scotians who have died with medical help since Canada’s legislation governing that issue was passed on June 17, 2016.
A total of 67 Nova Scotians requested medical assistance with death between that date and March 31, 2017.
Around the time that Douglas received his Parkinson’s diagnosis in 2011, the couple heard a story on the radio about the group Dying with Dignity Canada, which advocates for people who want to receive medical assistance with dying.
“He said that that’s how he wanted to go. He wanted to end his own life when he could no longer tolerate all the things that had been going on with him.”
But that was five years before medically assisted death became legal in Canada. After his diagnosis, “his life got harder every day,” said Henshaw.
Losing manual dexterity was distressing to Douglas, who was once a surgeon, Henshaw said. Over time, he lost the ability to button his shirts, tie his shoes and feed himself.
“Picking up a glass of water, a cup of tea without spilling it became a problem. … And just things that we take for granted — going to the bathroom, going to the sink, brushing his hair without dropping the hairbrush three or four times. That was his life.”
Although her 84-year-old husband’s mind was still clear, his thought processes had slowed down and his speech had become slurred.
Ready to die
For Douglas it was a “very, very frustrating” time. For Henshaw, it was simply exhausting — both physically and emotionally.
“No matter how much time I spent with him or what I did for him, I couldn’t alleviate the pain that he had. I couldn’t alleviate his suffering. It wasn’t until I could support him in his quest to end his life that I felt I could actually do something for him that was helpful,” she said.
Douglas had been ready to die for about two years. Then the federal government passed Bill C-14, making medical assistance with death legal. Douglas submitted his application three days later, on June 20, 2016.
The next few weeks were awful.
“The anxiety he went…