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Real Life

Real Life: This Great grandmother took her own life to end dementia

It’s almost noon... time for me to go.

Following the news that Australia's oldest scientist, David Goodall, has arrived at Life Circle, a clinic in Switzerland, ahead of his planned suicide, we can't help reflect on the story of Gillian Bennett.
When Gillian Bennett – who was born in New Zealand and retired in Canada with her husband of 57 years – published 
a blog called Dead at Noon, explaining her decision to die, we were so moved. 

Now, Take 5 is sharing her heartfelt letter with you...
I will take my life today around noon.
It is time.
Dementia is taking its toll and I have nearly lost myself. I have nearly lost me.
Jonathan, the straightest and brightest of men, will be at my side as a loving witness.
I have known that I have dementia, a progressive loss 
of memory and judgment, 
for three years.
It is a stealthy, stubborn and oh-so-reliable disease.
I might have preferred an exotic ailment whose name came trippingly off the tongue, but no, what I have is entirely typical. I find it a boring disease, and despite the sweetness and politeness of my family, I am bright enough to be aware of how boring they find it, too.
It is so rough on my husband, Jonathan. I don't think my lovely cat has noticed, but I'm not sure.
Dementia gives no quarter and admits no bargaining. Research tells us that it's a "silent disease," one that can lurk for years or even decades before its symptoms become obvious. Ever so gradually at first, much faster now, I am turning into a vegetable.
I find it hard to keep in 
my mind that my granddaughter is coming in three day's time and not today. "Where do we keep the X?" (coffee/backspace on my keyboard/the book I was reading) happens all the time.
Jonathan & Gillian—1957 Image credit: Dead at Noon
There comes a time, in the progress of dementia, when one is no longer competent to guide one's own affairs. I want out before the day when I can no longer assess my situation, or take action to end my life.
There could also come 
a time when I simply must make a decision based on my deteriorating physical health. I do not like hospitals.
I would not want 
a fall, a stroke, or some unforeseen complication to mess up my decision to cost Canada as little as possible.
Understand that I am giving up nothing that I want by committing suicide.
All I lose is an indefinite number of years of being a vegetable in a hospital setting, having not the faintest idea of 
who I am.
Each of us is born and dies uniquely. 
I think of dying as 
a final adventure 
with a predictably abrupt end.
I know it's time to leave and 
I don't find it scary.
There are so many things we obsess about. Should we bring 
a bottle of wine to the party? Will jeans and my new boots work or is that too casual?
We do NOT talk much 
about how we die. Yet facing death is thoroughly interesting and challenging. I have choices which I have reviewed. I think I have hit upon the right 
choice for me.
I have talked it over with friends and relatives. It is not 
a forbidden topic.
Every day I lose bits of myself. It's obvious that I am heading towards the state 
that all dementia patients eventually get to: not knowing who I am and requiring full-time care.
I know as I write these words that soon, I, Gillian, will no longer be here. What is to be done with my carcass? It will be physically alive but there will be no-one inside.
I have done my homework and reviewed my options.
I can live or vegetate for perhaps 10 years in hospital 
at Canada's expense, costing anywhere from $50,000 to $75,000 per year. That is only 
the beginning of the damage.
Nurses, who thought they embarked on a career that 
had great meaning, find themselves changing my diapers and reporting on 
the physical changes of an empty husk. It is ludicrous, wasteful and unfair.
My family, all of whom are rational and funny to boot, would not visit me in hospital, because they know I would 
not want them to.
The world strains under 
the weight of an ageing population. We are living longer, and life expectancies continue to grow.
Jonathan & Gillian—2014. Image credit: Dead at Noon
Life seems somewhat like 
a party that I was dropped into.
At first I was shy and awkward and didn't know what the rules were.
I was afraid of doing the wrong thing. It turned out that 
I was here to enjoy myself and 
I didn't know how to do that.
Someone kind talked to me and made me laugh.
I began to understand that 
I actually had to make up my own rules and live by them.
I did pick up that I needed 
to know when to leave, and that is now.
All members of my family are in Vancouver – my daughter Sarah, son Guy, 
two granddaughters and 
four grandsons.
They all know that it matters to me not to become a burden to them, or to Canada, 
a country we have grown to call home these 18 years.
In our family it is recognised that any adult has the right to make their own decision.
Just in case anyone is tempted to think 
I must be brave to 
off myself, you should know that I am 
a big sookie.
I am sorely fearful of being alone in the dark. I am scared something will get me. I do not want to die alone.
If my cat were failing in the way I am, I would mix some sleeping medication in with top-quality ground beef, and when she fell asleep, carry her lovingly to the garden.
Who wants to die surrounded by strangers, no matter how excellent their care and competence?
I have had a husband beyond compare, and children and grandchildren who have outstripped me in most meaningful ways.
Since I was seven I have had wonderful friends, whom I did and still do adore.
This is all much tougher than it need be on Jonathan and 
I wish he did not have to be alone with his wife's corpse.
Canadian law makes it a crime for anyone to assist a person committing suicide, therefore, Jonathan will in no way assist me.
Our children, Sara and Guy, would so willingly be with their father, but the laws being what they are, we will not put them in jeopardy.
Now, I go cheerfully and so thankfully into that good night.
Jonathan, the courageous, the faithful, the true and the gentle, surrounds me with company. I need no more.
It is almost noon.
To read Gillian's full letter, visit www.deadatnoon.com
As compiled by to Rebekah Scanlan

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