UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Spirit Story

Lessons from a friend

By Denise Davy

When my friend Eric McGuinness was diagnosed with cancer, he fought back with chemo. That was 2010. When it reappeared a few years later, he bravely fought again, even though the chemo had left him numb in his fingers and toes. When it came back the third time, Eric made a bold decision.

As I sat across from him at a small café in Hamilton, he told me of his plans to fly to Zurich, Switzerland, where assisted suicide has been legal since 1942, and end his life.

I was stunned.

Looking into his face and seeing how healthy he looked, I struggled to reconcile his words with the person before me. My gut instinct was to talk him out of it. Didn’t he want to squeeze every last minute out of life?  

But Eric was a head-over-heart guy. I knew that better than most. When my teenage son died years earlier, many people sat in my living room and sobbed inconsolably. Eric, on the other hand, was the essence of calm. He brought me the book The Little Prince and, in doing so, reminded me that my son’s name, Ryan, meant little prince. In my grief-stricken state, I had completely forgotten it was one of the reasons I’d chosen it 18 years earlier.

During one of Eric’s visits, a FedEx truck delivered a letter from columnist Barbara Amiel. She’d sent her condolences for my loss. Eric didn’t say much, but when he returned to the newsroom where we both worked, he faxed off a thank you to Amiel.

Eric was never known for being short on words. But during his visits, he always let me do the talking, and it gave me moments of peace as I worked through my grief. Now, as I sat across from him in that café, I realized it was my turn to return the favour.

I listened as he talked about how he didn’t want to be a burden on his family and friends, how he didn’t want to die a slow and painful death, and why he felt his decision was being forced on him: Canada’s Criminal Code prohibited physician-assisted dying. (The Supreme Court has since struck down that law.)

I gave him a small Guatemalan worry doll and told him to tuck it under his pillow at night to take away his worries. I hoped it offered some comfort.

On our last visit, we sat in a booth at the Mulberry Street Coffeehouse and chatted for three hours. He asked about my two daughters, whom I’d adopted from China after my son died, and he brought tears to my eyes when he told me he would miss not being able to watch them grow up.

When I shared a funny story about a woman we both knew, he let out a hearty laugh. It is the moment I cherish most. A few weeks after our visit, Eric boarded a plane for Switzerland and ended his life. He was 69.

My last few visits with him taught me that in a world where we so often search for connections through words and actions, sometimes the best thing we can give someone is our silence.

Denise Davy is a journalist in Hamilton.




Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

A perfect send-off

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: A Tale of Two Cancers

by Observer Staff

Catherine Gordon's October 2017 feature for The Observer, 'A tale of two cancers,' recently caught the eye of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and his Washington, D.C.-based team, and inspired a short documentary. Gordon talks about the experience of writing the article and participating in the film.

Promotional Image

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

October 2017

A tale of two cancers

by Catherine Gordon

One year after the writer discovered she had breast cancer, her sister in California received the same diagnosis. They both recovered, but their experiences were worlds apart.

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

November 2017

Grey matter

by Trisha Elliott

Is consciousness just a function of the brain — or something more?

Promotional Image