Fleur's mum, Claire, chose VAD in 2021 supported by her 100 year old mother, Margaret, who was by her side. Now almost 102, Margaret is frail, deaf, and virtually blind. Having seen the “perfect death” of her daughter, she wants the same for herself.
Dying is a very personal topic and one that a lot of people don’t like talking about. Yet there is nothing more certain for us all.
Whilst I know that everyone is entitled to an opinion on the topic, it is in the last few years that I have developed my own.
This is my family story.
My beautiful mum, Claire Brady, developed Corticobasal Degeneration (CBD) at the age of 65 as she was travelling solo around Australia in her Winnebago. She was independent, adventurous and full of life; completely unaware of how life was about to change.
Two years later in 2019, mum was in full time care in Exmouth, Western Australia. Her existence required 24-hour help for everything and it was not the life she wanted to be living. Mum’s dad had died of Alzheimer’s and she had made it quite clear that if VAD was available that she would like to access it, so in 2021 she moved to Perth.
Helping my mum to die was not something I had envisaged doing but I look back fondly at the conversations we had and think there could not be a truer love. Don’t get me wrong, it is the hardest thing I have ever done and navigating the early days of the system and specialists with anti-VAD opinions was not easy. Proving that mum had less than a year to live when she had a rare neurological disease so few people knew about was stressful to say the least. We had many tears and I could not believe or understand why it had to be so hard.
Shouldn’t it be my mum’s choice the way she wanted to live her life out?
Mum said goodbye to her friends and gave them jewellery that they had admired. She also asked me to organise gifts for her grandchildren. Together, we wrote her story, which I have since made into a book, and she told me how and where she wanted her memorial.
On mum’s last day she wished to die in her pyjamas, surrounded by family listening to Motown. We toasted her life with a glass of her requested Leewin Estate wine before she said, “Let’s get this show on the road”. She was at peace and ready to be independent again.
Her mum, Margaret Wallis, who had recently celebrated her 100th birthday, held her hand and later described her death as “perfect”.
I now find myself in similar territory with my Nanna who, having seen the perfect death, would now like it for herself. She will be 102 in May and lived independently by herself until 6 months ago when she moved into Aegis Stirling. She is as sharp as a tack but frail, deaf, and virtually blind. Surrounded by people suffering dementia, she says,
“This is not the way I saw my life ending. I have had a good life and I am ready to go.”
She has asked to access VAD but since she is not dying, the options available to her are inhumane. She can refuse food and medication or just kill time. People say she has quality of life but this is 100% subjective. Of her own admission, she is tired and at almost 102 who could argue with that.
It saddens me to see her losing her love of life and her vitality. I have always been in awe of her independence and I can’t help but wonder if she feels a bit jealous of her daughter’s death. The control she had over it and that it was completely on her terms. In my opinion we should all have the right to choose and nominate our idea of the perfect death? After all it is ours to be had.