A Different Way of Dying   3 comments

 

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View from my balcony of the Beltline area of Calgary

Teaching has ended for a few months and so I have a moment to catch up with the events of this spring. If it was the winter of our discontent that just dragged on and on, the spring has been a tough one for me, with a few significant deaths I’ve had to process. The first was my brother Tom who passed away early in March in Regina. Then my friend Quenten Doolittle passed away in Calgary a month or so later. I shall write suitable eulogies to these two fine men in the next short while. For now, because time is of the essence, I wish to write about another death that is soon to happen as of the time of this writing in late May, 2018.

I live in the Beltline area of the City of Calgary, an inner-city neighbourhood just a few blocks south and west of the shiny office towers that comprise the downtown area. Most people only know this area as a few streets they drive through to get to work downtown from their homes in the suburbs.

Yet to those of us who live here, it is a neighbourhood in the truest sense. One of the first couples of this neighbourhood for years and years has been an elderly couple named Catherine and Theo. Theo was a lovely dignified man who wore a tie every day, even with a Tilly hat. He had been an aerial photographer in World War 2.

His wife Catherine referred to herself as a “wall-jumper” – she had been in the convent once upon a time but chose a different path for herself that eventually would include Theo. Following a career as a teacher, she has been the unofficial historian of this part of town for many years.

They were great walkers, who thought nothing of walking the bike path from Eau Claire to the bird sanctuary even well into their 80s. They went everywhere together, you rarely saw one without the other. Hardly a day would go by when I wouldn’t run into them somewhere in the ‘hood. Theo would likely make some observation about birds, had I seen many gulls on the bike path? Catherine would like have some historical tidbit to share, or some concern about the state of the world. They were active and engaged.

Catherine hosted a meal in Theo’s honour for his 90th birthday at the Lougheed House a few years ago. It was a great event, very well-attended. It was perhaps a year after that Theo had heart problems and died quite suddenly. They had no children, no family to speak of. There was no funeral or memorial. I guess that’s why Catherine had created that event for his birthday, so we could pay our respects while Theo was still alive.

That left Catherine alone, and after all those years together, you could feel the sense of loss radiating from her. She was quite lost. Suddenly she was a very lonely, even pathetic figure without her beloved Theo. When you ran into her on the street, she would only talk about Theo. There was nothing else on her mind. She wore her grief like an old and comfortable sweater.

A year or so ago, Catherine was diagnosed with cancer. Alone in the world, and older,  she never sought treatment. She had an entirely different plan. Rather, she decided it was time to die, but on her own terms.

As the cancer advanced, she looked into the option of Physician-Assisted death, which has been legal in Canada since 2015. It was approved. She found a doctor who would perform the procedure (for lack of a better word). She found attendants who would be with her at the end and then take care of her body after she was dead. This meant they would arrange transport to the crematorium from her apartment. Catherine would never set foot in a hospital during this entire process.

All that was left was to decide on was a date, and that date in now fast approaching, about a week away as I write this. She is monitoring her symptoms, her discomfort, her level of pain. When it all gets to be too much she will make the call and end her life.

A month ago she had a drop-in farewell party at her apartment. Lots of familiar faces from the neighbourhood were there, reminiscing, paying their respects, saying good-bye one last time. It was really an unforgettable event. None of us had any frame of reference for it. Small talk was rendered useless, and rightfully so. For all that, it was quite a joyous event after all. Certainly a tad surreal, one might say.

She had put out a few things that she and Theo had collected over the years for anyone to take. Otherwise, she had divested herself of all of her furnishings other than a few essential items. There was a rack of Theo’s ties, beautiful woolen tartan ties from Scotland. I took a couple of them. I don’t wear a tie often, but now when I do, I wear one of these ties and  think fondly of both Theo and Catherine.

Last Sunday morning, Catherine sat in Caffe Beano for a few hours. She bought coffee for all those who came in that morning. I guess she figured, what else was she going to do with her money? From what they say, you can’t take it with you. The Beano farewell had been scheduled to take place about a week hence. Catherine didn’t look well at all. I gave her a hug and thanked her for the coffee. I suspect it will be the last time I see her.

Many of us in the neighbourhood are talking about Catherine’s decision, even as we head into our later years ourselves. We’ve been paying attention, taking notes as it were. No one really looks forward to a slow and steady decline in a hospital or hospice. I think most of us admire Catherine and the path she has chosen to end her life. I suppose we all wonder if we will be so brave and decisive when our own time comes.

Personally, I admire her decision.

May angels speed your way, Catherine. Please give my warmest regards to Theo.

 

 

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3 responses to “A Different Way of Dying

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  1. It is hard to put my thoughts into words for Theo and Catherine. A true love story and, as someone said more eloquently than I, all love stories end in tragedy as one of the lovers must die. I have been blessed to love the same man for 36 years and I imagine, should I outlive him, I will wear my grief like a sweater as Catherine has. I struggle to even imagine a time in my life when he will not be with me. I find some small comfort in the words of Dylan Thomas: Lovers die but love does not and death shall have no dominion. I admire Catherine for her brave and dignified choice. No wonder Theo loved her until the end.

    Sandra Crozier-McKee
  2. Profound thoughts Eugene. Thank you for giving us a glimpse into the lives of Catherine and Theo. May. We all be inspired to live and die with such grace and dignity.

  3. That’s a lovely story Eugene

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