Monday, November 03, 2014

My thoughts on Brittany Maynard

Editor's Note: I've been debating whether or not I should write this post for almost a month now. Like the rest of the world, I was incredibly moved when I read about Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old newlywed who chose to end her life in her Oregon home on Saturday after being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor earlier this year. Her story -- and I suppose, more importantly, her decision -- has stayed with me, affecting me in unexpected and surprising ways. That is why I'm writing this post. Please know that it does not reflect my political or religious views. And please know that I continue to send all my love and support to Brittany and her family. Brittany shared her story. This is mine.

I've been sitting here for awhile now, my hands poised over the keyboard, trying to come up with the perfect opening sentence. How do you start a post like this? I'm not exactly sure, so I suppose the most logical place to start would be the beginning. My beginning.

If you had asked me 11 years ago about assisted suicide, I would have said the issue was a simple one. No questions. No doubt in my mind. It was simple.

And then my father was diagnosed with sinus cancer and committed suicide about a month after finishing treatment. After that, things weren't so simple anymore.
There's been a great deal of controversy surrounding Maynard's decision, to be sure, but what can be said about grief? I mourn for Brittany. But I also mourn for her family. Because I've been in their shoes. Because I know how it feels to lose someone to such an unfair disease and because I know how it feels to lose someone to suicide. People often talk about all the things that happen before someone's death. But what about what happens after? What about the devastation felt by the family? The people who are left behind to try and reassemble the shattered pieces of a life they thought would turn out differently. A life they know, deep down to the very core of their being, will never be the same. Ever again.

And, sadly, I'm all too aware of the journey that lies ahead for them. It's not as simple as "her decision to die with dignity" because all the confusing, conflicting emotions I felt over the last decade? I wouldn't wish them on anyone. The water is murky, and sometimes, you don't even know where you're going. I've had family around me, but there were times where I'd never felt so alone.
I won't pretend to know all the emotions her family and friends are feeling right now, but this is what I do know: Death is not pretty and it's not beautiful. Death is ugly. You can't put it in a pretty little box and tie it up with a pretty little bow. Death, like life, just isn't that simple. For the group of us who knows so intimately that life will never be the same, my heart is with you. xoxo


  1. Thank you for your perspective, Melissa. While I wish every state allowed for carefully controlled dignity with death, I can't speak to the pain of the family after suicide and that's what you have been able to do. My father chose hospice rather than more invasive treatments and did die with dignity and family gathered around, but no extra pills were needed as his life was ending, other than pain relief. I am sorry that your father did not have better options when his life was coming to an end. ((Hugs))

  2. Thanks for sharing your story.

    I've been watching Brittany's case also. My personal history as a registered nurse and someone who's lost loved ones to cancer has influenced me greatly to believe in assisted suicide as an option for terminally ill people.

    Most people probably wouldn't choose assisted suicide but I feel it's really comforting for people to have that option available.

    It's such a personal decision and belief system. I don't think there are any right or wrong answers when it comes to death, other than the person being comfortable, safe and pain free.

  3. Thanks, MaryLee, and hugs to you as well. xoxo

  4. You are so right, is such a personal decision...part of the reason, i think, why Brittany's story has stirred up so many different emotions in people.

  5. While I can understand someone wanting to set their own terms on their life. I've seen so many people who have taught me great lessons on how life should be lived in the moments when they were struggling through their own pain. I think individuals are giving up on what they will offer the others in their lives.


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