“André became extremely calm,” once medical aid was accepted

08 January 2024

“André became extremely calm,” once medical aid was accepted

Huguette and her daughter Nathalie accompanied André, who received medical aid in dying in 2022. The two women look back on their journey and hope that the issue of medical aid in dying will be discussed more often. Here is their first-hand account.

Nathalie et Huguette Aide médicale à mourir

Can you tell us more about André and your daily routine?

Huguette: André had been struggling with heart failure. At the age of 50, he had suffered a heart attack that had left serious after-effects. For a while, everything was going really well, we had a normal life. In 2019, he started having arrhythmias, and a defibrillator was installed. From then on, he felt he was living with a machine. Everything changed at that point. That’s when my role as a caregiver really began. Not going out anymore. Staying at home. No more travelling.

Nathalie: my mother didn’t want to drive anymore. And André was being hospitalized more and more often.

How did the issue of medical aid in dying come up?

Nathalie: By 2022, André was discouraged. I’d even say depressed. In May, he was hospitalized for the fifth time that year. He had been going back and forth between home and hospital for months. It seemed that his patience was wearing thin.

I got a call at the beginning of June. It was the doctor. I had a sneaking suspicion that at the end of that phone conversation, I’d probably end up in tears. They had “lost him” during the night. His heart had given out. And then they had resuscitated him. My father was not happy at all. He said to the cardiologist, “Why didn’t you just let me go?” There was a discussion at that point. In medical terms, my father was voicing a refusal of treatment. The doctor explained that André had chosen me as his contact person. The cardiologist then told me in detail what had happened that night. He asked me to confirm my father’s wishes.

Is that when André spoke about “medical aid in dying”?

Nathalie: No, but ever since his heart attack, he’s always told us: “I don’t want any medical complications, I don’t want to get to that point.”

Huguette: Yes, in fact, this issue was included in his will. In addition to his heart condition, his kidneys and lungs were in a weakened condition.

Nathalie: When I got the phone call, André was basically making his wishes known, he wanted everyone to be prepared. With this call, he asked me to pass on the message, in particular to my brother in Deux-Montagnes, my sister in Gaspésie, my mother Huguette and the grandchildren. Huguette and I went to his bedside at the Montreal Heart Institute the next day, and that’s when he spoke of medical assistance in dying. He told us he didn’t want to continue the struggle. He was asking for medical aid in dying, and said that if he fell ill in the meantime, he didn’t want to be resuscitated.

How did you react?

Huguette: André had prepared me. Over the last two years, he often talked about death. He knew that his body was starting to fail. He could see himself wasting away. In the end, he could barely get out of bed and eat. Given these conditions, I thought it was only natural that he would want to end his life.

Nathalie: My father wanted everyone to be comfortable with his decision and for the family to support him in his choice. He wanted to make sure that we all supported his decision, for his own sake.

Once the decision was made, how did André handle it?

Huguette: Incredible! I rediscovered the André I’d married, fun-loving and good-humoured. And the day he was told that his request for medical aid in dying had been accepted, he became extremely serene.

Nathalie: André knew he wouldn’t get to see his grandchildren grow up… I think that was the hardest part for him. It was his choice, but thinking about the consequences of his choice in relation to the grandchildren, that’s where it was more difficult.

It all happened in the space of a week. I’d like to know what you thought about this lapse of time.

Nathalie: Honestly, for him it could have happened in two days. That’s what he would have wanted. He wanted it to happen that way. We were happy with the timeframe and we were lucky. I’d like to thank the team at the Heart Institute very much.

Did you want support after he passed away?

Huguette: We supported ourselves, as a family. We were so close! It was this close bond that helped us get through the ordeal.

Nathalie: We went through this stage in different ways, but we were all behind him. It all happened naturally. As director of the Regroupement des aidantes et aidants naturels de Montréal, I think there’s a lack of support for caregivers. In our case, everything went well because everyone was on board. But that’s not the case for all families. I say this in all humility, I know that medical aid in dying is a recent development, but there is clearly room for improvement in terms of supporting families.

That was last year, how did you get through the big day?

Huguette: When it was all over, on June 15, 2022, Nathalie had a harder time of it than I did, because we didn’t see it from the same angle. She was on the side where the injections were given. I was on the other side, holding André’s hand. Nathalie saw the whole thing.

Nathalie: It wasn’t deliberate, it just turned out that way. So, afterwards, I got angry. A lot of anger, because my father had wanted us to stay there the whole time. To listen to the song “Vole” by Céline Dion, which I’m no longer able to listen to without breaking into tears! After a few seconds, he fell asleep. I thought to myself: “Why did he put us through this? Why did I have to watch his heart stop beating? Why did he make us go through all this? I was angry for three days. It was part of my grieving process. After that, I realized how lucky I’d been to have his complete trust. I’d been the one called in to confirm his wishes. Deep down, I realized that the bond I had with my father was very strong. The anger I’d felt stemmed from that strong bond.

How are you doing now?

Huguette: the best formula we found was to live in the same house! After André died, one of my daughters who lives in Gaspésie came to spend several weeks with me. But afterwards, I found it very difficult to live alone in the big house. There were too many memories. I had to move out. The plan now is for us to each live in our own flat, in a duplex. Nathalie will eventually take on a caregiver role with me too!

A warm thank you to Huguette and Nathalie for sharing this touching moment they spent together.

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