Chris, left, and the Skip didn’t always see eye-to-eye on how things should run on the boat, but over a beer or two always made it onto the same page. Photo courtesy of Mickey Conlon

Comment: Chris fought the good fight, leaving behind a life lesson

By 
  • June 9, 2017

It’s been one year since terminally ill Canadians have been legally free to choose medical intervention to end their lives. In that time, some 1,400 people have chosen assisted suicide.

I’ve often wondered how I would feel if I were I to find myself in the same circumstance as a person who decides to die that way. What would I do? It’s easy for me as a relatively healthy person, one raised in a Catholic tradition that values life until its natural end, to condemn assisted suicide. But, as people say, until you walk a mile in that person’s shoes….

Still, since the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in the Carter case opened the door to physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia, there has been nothing to convince me this ruling was a good one.

While I have never had to walk that mile, I was blessed to know someone who did. I hope when my day comes, I will have the courage and drive to face death like he did.

Chris was a man who lived life to the fullest, who adored his family, his lovely wife Dot, his daughter and stepdaughter. He left this world far too early, barely into his 50s, two years ago.

To Chris, life was for the living. It was a riddle, a mystery that no amount of sleuthing was too much in order to find an answer. If, for instance, that meant taking something apart to figure out how it worked, then so be it. Not for Chris to leave well enough alone, he just had to know.

This did not always sit well with everyone. We crewed together on a sailboat and raced regularly. As our skipper always told us, every second counted in a race. So Chris was always looking for ways to shave off a second here and there, to make us go faster or sail a more efficient course, the difference between a win or being left off the podium altogether. Skip and Chris didn’t always see eye-to-eye on what Chris was doing, but between them and a couple of beers after the race, they made their way to the same page.

It came as a shock to Chris’ friends when he was diagnosed with cancer. It meant a year off of sailing as he battled the disease, and it didn’t go unnoticed. His replacement was a nice guy, had his talents as a sailor, but he wasn’t Chris. He didn’t bring the same life to the boat.

But it was only a year. The treatment seemed to work and, sure enough, Chris was back on the front end of the boat the next year.

But as too often happens, the remission wasn’t permanent. Another cancer diagnosis wouldn’t slow him down, though, and he continued to embrace life despite this setback.

Never did Chris’ lust for life shine through more than in his final months. He knew the end was near, everyone around him knew the end was near. His doctors would discuss what they could do, always with the caveat that it was just postponing the inevitable. And this is where my respect for Chris grew. Instead of accepting his fate, the doctors, to their frustration, were told to do everything to keep him ticking. If he was going to find out how everything was supposed to work, well, why not them? Just do it.

It would not save his life, but Chris was going out on his terms and he was embracing life for as long as possible.

But he wasn’t thinking only of himself. He wanted to share his time with his family as long as possible, and beyond. One of our last communications was quite gripping. All he asked was that we look out for Dot and keep her included in our social life. Never really a praying man, and knowing my work in Catholic circles, he asked that maybe I could put a word in with “The Boss” to look after him when he made his way to the next life.

When Chris passed, the funeral was a sad one. We all know people who have died and you saw it coming from their life choices, knowing these people weren’t long for this world. But it was different for Chris. The tears shed were real and plentiful. Everyone knew this was a man gone too soon.

Chris understood: Life is a blessing, do something with it.

I take inspiration from Chris and his way of living life and, ultimately, accepting death. Assisted suicide wasn’t an option for him, but I can’t imagine he would have chosen that way to die. It’s been a year since assisted suicide became legal in Canada and nothing has convinced me that it is the route to take at the end of life.

I never thought assisted suicide was a good idea and because of Chris I’m more sure of that than ever.

(Conlon is a writer in Regina.)

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