My father’s assistance in dying was a parting gift. I wish I had said that in his obituary.


This first-person column is written by Kelley Korbin, who lives in West Vancouver, British Columbia. For more information on CBC’s first-person stories, please visit the FAQ.

My father’s death was something that had worried me for decades – probably ever since I learned that smoking kills. But years of preemptive angst didn’t prepare me for the crushing grief that landed like a stone on my chest when he finally died of lung cancer at age 82 last year.

I couldn’t have known how the deliberate way he chose to die would become part of his legacy. Or that Mom’s reluctance would prevent me from sharing with the world that he had benefited from medical assistance in dying. I had hoped to honor my father with an obituary that would inspire readers to live harder and love bigger. And I wanted to present his life with all its complexities and idiosyncrasies in an honest tribute that – if you read between 20 column inches – revealed his authentic nature.

For example, I wrote that he regaled us with stories that we never tired of hearing, that he was never one to gossip, and that he was at his most relaxed when he was traveling. Let me break it down: Dad always prefaced his stories (however entertaining) with “Stop me if you’ve heard that,” then jumped right in with a nanosecond pause for interjections; he couldn’t stand fools, and without a margarita in hand on a tropical beach, he could be pretty set in his ways.

The only thing I didn’t want to talk about was how he died.

I am reluctant to use a hackneyed term like transformational but it is the only one I have to describe what we experienced. Medical assistance in dying spared Dad many indignities and, for the family he left behind, knowing in advance the exact day and time of his death gave us the opportunity to tell everything what we had to say and send it back imbued with the love it deserved. .

As I watched Dad take his last peaceful breath (that wasn’t a euphemism, it really was), I was flooded with gratitude for having lived in a country where my Dad had the option to give up a long, slow death. I wanted to share it with the world.

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The federal government wants another pause in authorizing requests for medical assistance in dying (MAID) from people suffering solely from mental illnesses. CBC’s Christine Birak explains the divide among doctors and what it means for patients who have waited years for a decision.

So, I asked mom.

“Can I write that Dad had MAID in the obituary?” »

“I’d rather you didn’t.”

I’m not usually one to hesitate. But it was my mother – just one day after her husband of 60 years died. Plus, obituaries were very expensive, and she paid.

“OK, no problem,” I said and went looking for a breadcrumb to drop in the obituary. Dad’s death was not “sudden,” “unexpected,” or “tragic,” which leaves me unsure of the coded language to use for medically assisted dying.

Finally, I settled for the truth: Dad died surrounded by his family at sunset.

Two women and a man pose for a selfie on a rooftop with palm trees in the distance.  They all smile.
Korbin’s parents, David and Judi, were married for 60 years. (Kelley Korbin)

The following year, I regretted what seemed to me to be a lie of omission. Then, on the first anniversary of his death, Mom said to me: “It took me a while, but now I see that your father traded a few months of his life to give us a good death.

She was right.

Dad had always been generous with material things, but his deliberate death was perhaps his greatest gift. Watching him make his difficult decision with grace and calmness was the bravest thing I have ever experienced. We’ve always been a close-knit family, but I don’t think any of us, even Dad, could have predicted how much closer sharing this rite of passage would bring us. Even a year after our patriarch’s death, I sense a deeper intimacy between those of us he left behind.

Beautiful indeed.

I took my mother’s opening to probe further.

“Why didn’t you want me to put PAD in the obituary?” Were you worried about the stigma?

“Me? Stigma? Not at all,” she said, “I just didn’t think it was relevant.”

And then she added: “But I’m doing it now. So go tell the world about your father’s great, beautiful assisted death.”

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