Leaving Us: In Loving Memory of Aaron


Leaving Us: In Loving Memory of Aaron


            Aaron was my son; my only child.  He was 42 years of age when he lost the battle with stage four colon cancer after eighteen intense months full of numerous surgeries and procedures;  a multitude of chemo treatments; blood clot emergencies; medical interventions; opinions and advice (both good and bad) from physicians; surgeons; oncologists; internal medicine; palliative care; and ultimately the medically assisted dying team “MAID”; and one amazing doctor on this team that “got it” and worked with Aaron to insure that what Aaron ultimately needed was realized.  I will be forever grateful to him and his team.

What Aaron was able to ultimately control, when he accepted that the cancer within his body was going to win the battle, was the courage and love to leave his family on his terms.  His terms meant he stayed with us for as long as he could be a fully engaged father; husband; son and friend.  And when he could no longer be that to us, and to himself, and he knew his body was failing him and his life was ending, he was able to die on his terms, with dignity.  He planned this day with words and songs that would bring us comfort, courage, and peace.

Although Aaron could not stay with us in this life as we know it, he was determined to leave his boys in the most beautiful way possible.  And in that he gave them the gift of teaching them firsthand that even in death there is nothing to fear; and nothing is insurmountable, when surrounded by those you have loved completely.  The legacy he left Oliver and Avery is one of profound courage, dignity, and hope.

Aaron was born into love on June 27th 1978; and from that he learned to return love fully.  His courage and his wisdom grew out of love.  During one of our early conversations after Aaron’s cancer prognosis became bleak, he shared with me that his life was wonderful and had always been so.  His sorrow was in having to leave us way too soon. We had a deeply philosophical conversation that sunny June afternoon in our courtyard; and we talked about the injustice of him having to leave before us, and how that was just completely and utterly horrible.  We talked about what might be out there; if anything; and Aaron shared that although he did not believe in afterlife he did not question or need to reassess his belief system.  And he did promise to haunt me constantly if he could after he had to leave.  I have felt his energy so often these past four months; and although I have no evidence to offer up whether there is or is not something beyond what we know to be life; I am learning to accept these many moments as precious “gifts” and not question where or why or what or how.  I have no words to describe the pain of how deeply and powerfully I miss the tangible, physical, and living Aaron.  But I cling to the truth that he lived his 42 years completely and his legacy is one of leaving this world a better place because he lived.  And he does live on in Oliver and Avery.  And so on, and so on, and so on……...

I cannot imagine the horror of suffering and loneliness that Aaron’s last hours would have held, if the medically assisted death legislation had not been in place.  The medical professionals who are fighting the battle to advance the legislation and educate the world on the critical importance of opening the doors fully on the option of medically assisted dying have become my heroes. May this new field of compassionate and progressive medical assistance in dying be embraced fully by our world as we move forward into frontiers of knowledge and truth and better understanding of the importance of choice in letting go of life when it is our time.

This is Aaron’s story as best I can recall it of his final weekend with us.  It is written in the hope that those reading will value the deeply personal and important message of sharing such intimate and yet necessary moments of letting go of life and honouring what we are all born to ultimately do, cross over from life to death. 

  Saturday, September 12th 2020, began for us with sunny skies; a cup of coffee and conversation in our living room.  We had been with Aaron, Cynthia and their boys (Oliver 11 and Avery 8) on Friday late day and were not anticipating seeing them again throughout the weekend, unless called upon.

I had wakened believing the debilitating symptoms from Aaron’s last round of chemo would be abating today and that the weekend would bring him some physical relief and with that better family time and possibly a visit or two from his friends.

Aaron was coming out of round 5 of chemo after having been told on April 20th that his stage 4 colon cancer had returned and was travelling thru his lymph nodes with new tumours on his liver and lungs.  His days since April 20th had been full of shock; horror; disbelief; fear; anger; distress; pain; sleepless nights; acceptance; courage; wisdom; and preparing his sons.  He knew; we knew his days were numbered and his leaving us was inevitable.  However, on this beautiful Saturday morning we were clinging to the fact that his latest cat scan in early September had disclosed that the tumours were not growing significantly; and that the oncologists had “some” hope that with further treatments Aaron might stay with us a bit longer.

Aaron had been fighting the cancer war since his initial diagnosis, February 28th 2019 and for a brief period in early 2020 we had hopes he would stay with us much longer.

In early summer 2019 after one of our many mother/son lunches, Aaron came back to our place, and it was during that conversation that he firstly raised the topic of “Assisted Dying” with me.  He calmly and rationally explained to me how important it was that I support and assist him in enacting his wish to “die with dignity”. 

That day Aaron explained that his pure motivation in this decision was to ensure his boys never had to experience their father’s body and mind painfully deteriorating in front of them as they had to wait and watch, knowing there was no hope left for Aaron to stay with us. 

From the moment I owned this was Aaron’s new reality I knew my response to his request was critical.   The honour I felt in knowing he trusted our relationship enough to ask for my help if needed will remain imprinted in my heart forever.

That September morning, I will forever remember the moment my cell phone rang and Cynthia’s number came up requesting a facetime call.  When I saw my daughter-in-law’s face, I knew Aaron was in trouble.

We often identify these moments as surreal; “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream”, but in this moment my feelings were one of intense reality.  We were in real time experiencing the possibility that Aaron’s life was ending. 

Cynthia was calm yet shaken as she explained to me that Aaron’s internal bleeding had returned late Friday night; that he had begun the medication prescribed to help slow the bleed but that throughout the night she and Aaron had discussed “next steps” if the bleed continued and intensified.   Aaron was not going back to hospital in ambulance and leaving us; he was going to continue on the medication for the weekend; if the bleeding eased up and he could care for himself he would agree to go to hospital Monday morning for a possible blood transfusion; if that was not to be and he continued to bleed and weaken he and Cynthia would discuss next steps; which I knew would involve a call to the “assisted dying team”.

It was agreed that Bill and I would come over to be with Aaron, Cynthia and the boys after Cynthia and Aaron had some time to share with Oliver and Avery what had transpired Friday night.

Aaron has never embraced drama as an emotional outlet in times of crisis or even greatest joy.  He emotes a sense of practical, and rational behaviour and yet at the same time; without even being aware of it his presence fills a room; his smile can light up every tiny corner; and his anger can bring on very dark clouds.  His words matter!  But he was an innocent in that he never fully recognized his own courage and immense heart.  Throughout his 18 months of fighting for his life his courage and heart kept expanding as he exhibited all the human characteristics of fear and anger; sorrow and doubt; hope and hopelessness.  I had reached a place in this journey of feeding off of Aaron’s emotional state whenever I was with him.  Therefore, on this Saturday when Bill and I headed to 371 Tanglewood the tears flowed uncontrollably until we arrived in their driveway; and then intuitively I knew I would begin to take my emotional lead from Aaron.

We immediately registered that Aaron and Cynthia’s car was not in the driveway.  Cynthia was waiting in the living room nervously browsing thru a magazine.  She explained that Aaron had enough energy to get up; shower and dress; talk to the boys and then make the decision that he was driving to McDonald’s on his own to purchase his usual double/double coffee.  This was the last time Aaron drove his new car, or left his home.  We had a few moments with Cynthia before Aaron with coffee in hand arrived back home.

Aaron seemed somewhat hopeful that the blood clotting medication might provide some relief.  We talked generally about the situation; and how the boys were coping.  They were both absent from the room during this early conversation.  Cynthia also informed us that Aaron’s father (Closten) and stepmother (Nancy) had been called at their home in Toronto.  They had been planning to visit Aaron the upcoming Wednesday.  Closten initially felt that he and Nancy would wait to travel to Kingston in the hope that Aaron’s health would improve over the weekend.  Upon reflection, Closten called back to say that he and Nancy were leaving Toronto shortly to come and be with Aaron.  We collectively breathed a sigh of relief.  Aaron needed his father. 

The boys joined us briefly, and we could see they were coping, taking their lead from their parent’s optimism.  Everyone that late morning was holding onto hope.  Aaron was fully engaged in all conversation and he shared a headline about the mayor of Kingston publicly announcing that he and his family were leaving a “cult” like local congregation.  Aaron handed me his iPad sharing a link with a photo image of the person who was “minister” to this group.  And in Aaron’s typically wry manner he expressed his disappointment with a childhood friend who continued to be part of this same congregation.

The day was beautiful (sunny and warm); and we knew Closten and Nancy would not be arriving until at least 3:30 pm.  Aaron and Cynthia asked that we not do our usual departure when Aaron’s father arrived.  I could also see that Aaron was beginning to tire. 

The boys were keen to swim in their “newly installed pool”.   So, while they and Bill went to change into swimsuits, I had a few moments alone with Aaron.  Our conversation moved to what Aaron might still want to do this fall if our fears about his health were not realized.   He quietly informed me that he wanted to take a road trip to his father’s condo in Tremblant Quebec, to experience the fall colours one more time.  I encouraged him to stay focussed on that possibility, and he smiled and reminded me about all the practical reasons that this wish might not be a reality. 

 For a few sunny warm hours Bill and I, Oliver and Avery enjoyed being outside; Bill for the most part playing with the boys in the pool while I watched and worked around the pool and backyard, needing to keep busy.  Aaron had headed back up to his bedroom with Cynthia; and while we were keeping the boys engaged, he was weakening; losing more blood and discussing with Cynthia options for next steps.  However, Aaron could see from the upstairs window how much his boys were enjoying “the pool”.  The pool was Aaron’s last project for his family.

Aaron had a direct cell phone number to the physician from the assisted dying team; all the legal papers had been officially signed; and he had met twice with this physician for lengthy and detailed conversation as to what Aaron needed from him should the time come where Aaron must decide.  Currently the “MAID” protocol is such that a patient can determine a date, time, and place to be assisted in dying; or the patient waits to determine such time and calls the team when they recognize there is a need for action.  With the second option a person might have to wait up to 48 hours from the time of call.  In Aaron’s case the physician agreed he would be “on call”, and when Aaron was ready, he would make himself available to assist within a few hours time.

Closten and Nancy arrived around 3:45 pm. and while Cynthia was supporting Aaron upstairs, we briefed them on the situation as best we understood it.  I had asked Cynthia at one point during the afternoon if I could help her and Aaron; and she assured me that keeping the boys busy was the best support.

Shortly thereafter Aaron and Cynthia came downstairs.  The change in Aaron from when I had been with him in the morning was stark.  He greeted his dad with affection; and asked that we have a “family” meeting.  In the morning Aaron had been sitting upright on a sofa; by the afternoon he was now propped up on a lounging/reading cushion.  

Oliver commented on how much he “did not” like these kind of family meetings as his dad began to share, he was weakening and worried that the medication might not be working; and if that was the case, he and Cynthia would call in the medical team before Monday.  However, he quietly explained to the boys that “daddy” did hope things might turn around and he would still make it thru to Monday and another blood transfusion.  No one cried, but we all sat in silence absorbing this very tough news.

Avery was the first to leave the room, and he headed down to the gaming room.  I followed Avery to the basement.  He did not want to talk; he wanted to escape and game.  I quietly sat with him drawing comfort from this amazingly brave little boy.

Our last “family meal’ with Aaron was a takeout meal from the boy’s favourite burger joint “Five Guys”.  Aaron continued to stay with us but was not well enough to sit up at the table.   He was hungry; and it was Avery who asked his dad if he would like to try some food.  Aaron asked for a plate of fries and Aaron’s last meal with us was served to him by Avery carrying a plate to his dad; watching over him; gently patting him on the shoulder and getting him a second helping and a glass of water. The gentleness, and love between father and son so complete.

I knew I needed to stay the night.  Aaron hesitated ever so briefly when I asked, and then said “yes, if it would make me feel better”.  This permission was our cue to take a break and head back to our place for overnight articles.  It also opened the door for Aaron’s dad to have more time with Aaron. Before we left, Aaron asked me if I would sort thru the childhood albums and boxes that were in my possession and bring them back to Tanglewood for us to view as a family.   In my haste to pull together overnight clothes and toiletries and head back to Aaron the photo albums were forgotten.

When we returned Aaron had already headed upstairs to his bedroom; and the boys were preparing for bed as well.  The boys were in and out of Aaron’s bedroom that evening continuing to treat their night time rituals with him as they always had.  Aaron had been re-watching the television series “The Sopranos” during the past several weeks; and he was 2 episodes away from completing the series.  He left us determined to finish the episodes that evening.  He never quite made it. I did not ask to see Aaron that evening after he went upstairs.  The upstairs evening time was their family ritual.

Cynthia and I had quiet time that evening after everyone was settled.  Those moments of being together as wife and mother of Aaron were full of love and fear.

Sleep did not come to me that night.  Although Cynthia knew I was there and waiting to be called upon she and Aaron spent the very long, painful night together.  Aaron had several weakening moments; pain; and unconsciousness.  When he could they began to plan the process of Aaron needing to let go.

At 5:30 am after very little sleep I got up and headed into the shower. It was quiet upstairs and I trusted that was a good sign.  In the kitchen I looked for coffee to brew and waited.  Avery our early riser was up first; and we discussed what a Grandma breakfast might look like this morning; shortly thereafter Oliver joined us and we busied with breakfast.  Both boys were enjoying their food at the counter when Cynthia came downstairs.  She looked exhausted.

Cynthia hugged the boys and then told us that “daddy” had a very difficult night and although finally sleeping; was not doing well.  She explained that Aaron might not make it thru the day; and that she and daddy probably would call the medical team today.  The boys pushed their breakfasts away and bravely but sorrowfully absorbed the news.  For the past many months Aaron and Cynthia had been preparing Oliver and Avery for the inevitable.  The conversations were open and honest.  Aaron and Cynthia believed it most important that the boys know daddy was going to have to leave them because the cancer had spread too far.  Aaron and Cynthia had also spent many hours preparing the boys to understand that the choice Aaron had made in accepting the assisted dying support meant that he would be able to stay at home with them; and that they would be able to say goodbye to their father on his terms.  The family of four had shared this reality and had woven it into the fabric of their last few months together.  How difficult these months had been and yet how close a family they became as they approached the inevitable. Amazingly, the family continued to embrace humour during those months and often joked together. The love in the home even as Aaron weakened and suffered during the late summer was contagious.  His anger at the pain and uncontrollable injustice of his situation would cause him to lose his temper often; and yet the boys and Cynthia mostly were able to understand the anger was not directed at them; but rather at the helplessness of Aaron’s deteriorating health.   In the last few weeks Bill and I spent individual time with Oliver and Avery, as they were encouraged to visit our place more frequently.  The boys honoured us with their trust during those visits and we had several heartbreaking conversations with them.  We all knew today was coming and yet we had longed for some miracle.  So, on this Sunday morning Oliver and Avery were prepared as best children can be.  The boys expressed their sorrow, and then thankfully they were able to distract themselves with their computer games.

Aaron had managed to finally get some sleep and the day began quietly. It was raining outside.  For weeks we had experienced beautiful late summer weather, but today Aaron’s last day with us, dark clouds filled the sky and the rain soaked the earth.

Bill arrived with coffee in hand, and one especially for Aaron.  Closten and Nancy were not far behind him.  Everyone was briefed on Aaron’s difficult night and the fear that he might not make it thru until Monday.  By this time Cynthia was dressed and Aaron was awake insisting he was coming downstairs to join us.  Cynthia’s terms were that he must be able to shower and dress firstly.  With her help Aaron did just that.

When Aaron came down the stairs to join us; he filled the room. He wanted a McDonald’s coffee; and so, Bill informed him that he had one waiting for him and it just needed to be warmed up. Aaron made it clear that today of all days he did not want a microwaved coffee. On cue Bill headed out the door to get Aaron a fresh McDonald’s double/double.  It was during this time that Aaron settled onto the couch in the sunroom with just his father and me.  He had his I Pad in hand, and he proceeded to open a Star Wars game app that he played religiously each morning.  I sat beside him and his father across the room.  After a few moments Aaron looked up from his app and quietly shared with us that he had no idea dying would be this painful.  It was the only time throughout the day that Aaron mentioned the severity of his pain to me.  The morning passed quickly with the boys in and out of the room; Aaron enjoying his fresh coffee and our familial conversation.  As we approached late morning Aaron asked me if I had remembered to bring his childhood photo albums, as he wanted to view them with us.  I immediately owned I had forgotten, but that Bill and I would head home; retrieve them; and pick up some takeout lunch for everyone.  I had no sense that this would be the last time I would see Aaron downstairs among us this way.

The rain had intensified throughout the morning and as we drove from 371 Tangelwood to our home across the city I could not comprehend why people were out and about on this sorrowful day!  We quickly gathered the albums and photo boxes and then made a quick stop to pick up lunch.

Re-entering Aaron and Cynthia’s home we knew something had changed.  Closten and Nancy were in the living room looking very shaken and Cynthia and Aaron were not present. Aaron had taken a turn for the worse while we were out; and had asked to go back upstairs.  His legs were failing him and although he made it to the top of his stairs, he collapsed in the hallway just outside his bedroom. Cynthia managed to catch him as he collapsed into a seated position with head in lap.

Aaron was unconscious for a brief period; and during those moments Cynthia was not certain he was still with us as she could not get positioned under him to get a pulse.  When Aaron regained consciousness, he joked with her that he had not quite made it either to his bed or beyond.  Cynthia asked if she could get Aaron’s dad to help him back into bed; but he soundly rejected the offer and instead when he realized he could no longer walk, he “bummed” it across the bedroom floor and with only Cynthia’s support managed to get into his bed.  Cynthia got him settled with necessary adjustment as they suspected Aaron was not leaving his bed again that day.  Aaron did not.

When Cynthia rejoined us in the living room I asked if I could go up to Aaron’s room.  Upon entering the room and seeing my son I knew we were going to be saying goodbye. I asked permission to climb onto the king size bed with him and grinning he agreed.  For about an hour Aaron and I were alone together.  Aaron’s voice was strong; nothing in the way we had always connected changed that afternoon.

He explained to me what had transpired while we were out of the house; and how when he collapsed outside the bedroom he had been dreaming. The smile on Aaron’s face when he shared assured me that the dream had been profoundly peaceful.  I never asked him about the content.  One can only imagine what conversation might unfold between a mother and son who have shared so much understanding, trust, friendship, and intense love as Aaron and I had in his 42 years.  Not surprisingly, Aaron confirmed what we both knew that in the lead up to this day he and I had shared everything we needed too.  How true that statement was.  As my tears overflowed, I shared from my heart how much he meant to me as he too began to quietly cry and we sat close in his bed holding the moment.  Aaron then confirmed that the assisted dying team was on stand bye and the call would be made this afternoon.

Knowing that neither of us wanted to waste these last hours sobbing; I asked Aaron to share the highlights of his life with me.  He grinned and said “I know you think it would be the birth of Oliver and Avery; and those were precious moments Mom; but in actual fact I have two highlights that out weigh those moments”.  Being a father had never been Aaron’s dream job; yet being a father completely changed Aaron and all that he became was influenced by fatherhood.  However, the two moments in his life that he shared with me were the four-month trip he took with his best friend “Luke” to Europe; then Egypt (where he met his father and me for a 2-week vacation) and then on to South Africa to rejoin Luke and his family; And the day he met Cynthia and, in his words, “he knew she was the one, the love of his life”. 

In that precious hour we also talked about a tattoo I hope to receive; and what that might look like.  A heart with his name and birthdate imprinted; and he gave me advice as to who should do the artwork and where best to imprint the tattoo.  He talked to me about the anger and hurt he was still carrying over work related matters just prior to his cancer diagnosis; and throughout his illness.  Aaron shared anger toward a close childhood friend and the breakdown and sorrow over not having time to heal the situation.  And he talked about his close friendships and how important they were too him. How each friend had provided him with love and had supported him in their own unique way. And we talked about who he might like to reach out to this afternoon to say goodbye.  (Ultimately, later in the afternoon with Cynthia’s help Aaron was able to say goodbye to his friend Luke).  During our moments together Aaron never expressed fear at the inevitable outcome to the day.  Sorrow absolutely; love completely; a need to express anger at situations left unsettled; but never fear. 

When Cynthia joined us and asked how we were doing Aaron shared with her much of our conversation highlighting his two most precious moments; and joking with her as to how only his mom would be asking such questions today.  He also assured her that I had successfully managed to bring him to tears.  I left them and the boys joined their mom and dad for their time.

At approximately 3:30 pm. we rejoined the family in the bedroom were informed that Aaron was ready for Cynthia to make a call to the “team”.  Aaron asked for the photo albums and childhood pictures to be shared.  Cynthia came back into the room and informed Aaron the “team” would arrive for 7:00 pm.  Aaron smiled and said something to the affect of “that soon”.  However, when questioned by Cynthia he agreed he was okay with the timing.

We all participated in the photo album exchange with the boys and Cynthia on the bed with Aaron and the four “parents” passing pictures and albums around the room sharing many delightful memories of Aaron’s childhood and early adult life. Eventually the boys began to tire and wander off; and ultimately so did Cynthia and Bill and Nancy. Closten and I had a brief time with Aaron alone; and he shared with us that he had been preparing for this day for 18 months.  His father asked him what he had expected of the day; and Aaron quietly owned the day was unfolding as he had planned.

As the afternoon began to slip away the rain let up and the sun broke thru the clouds.  The boys were beginning to grasp the reality of how little time we had left with Aaron.  Bill and Nancy persuaded them to go out for a walk to help them.  It was during this late afternoon that Closten, Aaron and I shared our final precious moments with our son.  Our conversation was full of memories and highlights of Aaron’s childhood.  We relived so many precious moments together falling comfortably back to a time where we three had been family.

With the boys back from their walk we knew the clock was ticking too quickly.  Aaron was tiring and closing his eyes more frequently, taking in the conversation around him.  The boys were becoming tearful and back in bed with their father he was snuggling with them.

Close to 7:00 pm. I was sitting beside Aaron’s bedside and realized he had not yet shared “the plan”, and what if any instructions he needed to give us.  When I asked, Aaron replied: “do you not want to be in the room; I always assumed you did”.  My heart filled.  He then quietly explained to me that he and Cynthia had prepared the boys to be present to watch daddy say goodbye; but that they had also informed the boys that it was their choice.  There was no right or wrong; and that the boys should decide for themselves.  Aaron then asked that if one or both boys had to leave would I be willing to follow them out of the room and comfort them.  It was in this moment I realized how fully Aaron had courageously planned all details. 

What I recall of the 7:00 pm. hour was that we were all in the room with Aaron, and he was quietly listening to what was very much “family conversation” when the doorbell rang.  Cynthia went to answer the door; and when she returned Aaron said that he wanted some more time with us.

The team came in and did the preparation and then left the room.  During this prep, I had a moment with Oliver and Avery and reiterated to them what their parents had been sharing with them for several weeks; that there was no right or wrong in their decision.  Both boys were firm in that they needed to stay with Aaron.

We all re-entered the room.  Cynthia and the boys climbed back onto the bed with Aaron.  I took up my post by his bedside and Closten, Nancy and Bill stood around the bed. 

Aaron began to speak.  He told us he had a couple of songs he wished for us to hear. The first was “Let It Be” by The Beatles.  He asked “Alexa” to play it for us.  The song began, and Aaron asked for the volume to be turned up.  For some reason “Alexa” did not automatically increase the volume; Aaron asked me to turn up the volume and thru my tears and clumsy fingers I kept turning the audio system on and off.  Sighing deeply, as he so often did when he was amused, he asked Avery to help Grandma to turn up the volume.  And “Let It Be” began. 

When the song ended Aaron turned to Bill and Nancy and expressed in his words how grateful he was to have had them in his life, and how much he had grown to love them.  Nancy went to Aaron firstly, thanking him and saying goodbye.  Bill followed her; and the force of the embrace these two men shared was breathtaking.  Aaron then turned to Closten and me.  He expressed gratitude and love for us and all that we had been to him as parents.  I went to my son firstly, reminding him one more time that when the lights of pure love went on for me as Aaron’s “mom” he lit up the world, he was my everything.  Then Closten approached his son; asking “Are we okay?”.  Holding his dad closely in his arms he reassured his father twice that “We Are Okay!

Aaron turned to his Oliver and Avery; and he told them daddy had put aside a significant amount of money that he wanted them to spend on whatever fun items they could wish for.  He reminded them that they had been the best boys ever.  Through his tears Oliver said he would give trillions of dollars to keep daddy with them and Aaron gently affirmed that he too longed for that to be, but it just was not possible.  All this time the boys, Cynthia and Aaron were holding each other.  We “the parents” had stepped away from the bed.

Aaron then turned to Cynthia; “One more song, “Come Away with Me””?  Cynthia replied, “Our wedding song”.  And Nora Jones was played.

It was time; and the medical team quietly came back into the room and began administering the drip.  Aaron turned toward his family and as his head began to sink into his pillow.  He said “It is working; I love you; I love you”.  The courage; the energy; the love filled every corner of that room; radiating from Aaron and back to him from us.

Although I then left the room to follow Avery, Bill shared with me later that Aaron’s last words were “I am okay; it is okay”.  Cynthia subsequently shared with me that she was holding Aaron when she felt the energy leave his body.

Avery ran from the room; and as promised I followed him downstairs. This courageous little boy could not handle any more intense emotion.  He and I shared moments of calm with a drink of lemonade and hugs.  Then he asked to go back upstairs.  In the hallway the medical team of doctor and nurse were quietly crying together.  Oliver emerged from the bedroom and I took both boys into the bathroom to try to comfort them. Oliver’s distress was palpable; and when Cynthia joined us the boys collapsed into her arms.  They needed their mother. 

In the hallway Closten, Nancy and Bill were leaving the room; and Closten embraced me sobbing.  We held each other and I whispered to him that we had done what Aaron needed; and we should be proud.

I knew it was now my time to go and be with Aaron.  For the next hour or so I sat with my son talking to him; crying over him; stroking his arm; kissing his forehead and saying goodbye.  At one point Cynthia re-entered the room; took his wedding ring off his finger and placed it on a chain around her neck.  She thanked me for staying with Aaron so she could care for the boys.

During that final hour of being with Aaron my heart was overflowing with the deepest sorrow I have ever experienced.  And yet there was such a sense of calm, such a sense of love, such a sense of beauty.  His body remained as if he were deeply sleeping; finally released, finally at peace.

Heather Cooke


Heather Cooke is Aaron’s mother. She lives in Kingston, Ontario and has had a diverse and interesting career at Queen’s University in several faculties for 40 years. Heather’s relationship with her son was always her passion. Aaron was not only her child; he became her best friend. Her life was full of her work; her grandchildren; travel with her husband; and much joy; until Aaron was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer February 28th, 2019. In putting to paper the powerful and very personal story of Aaron’s end of life Heather is longing to bring the fear of untimely death and the grieving process more fully into the light


  1. the soul of art is a basic honest confession. may God give you strength in the days ahead. bless you for sharing this hardship.

  2. it takes courage to face this matter and share with the world his special existence. I will share this with my family.

  3. only a mother could write with such grace and gratitude. thank you for being a loving person.

  4. Could anyone with a shred of compassion read this and not want to allow choice to strong suffering individuals who face the inevitable squarely? It has to be the right thing to want to spare loved ones the horrors of helplessly watching a painful, prolonged ending and instead give them the gift of memories of a peaceful, dignified death , an event where family have the opportunity and honour to share their love for one another and their relief when irremediable and intensifying suffering ends.

    1. That is left to a person's deeply held values. No matter the suffering involved death is a part of life and not everyone holds dear it should be discarded because of diminished quality of life. Suicide where personal or medical is not really a solution it's an escape. And having such enormous power embedded in a culture's medical community might not be a glorious gift but rather a way to hasten death for spare parts or other political agendas. How about we do something original dare I say, rebellious, -- celebrate life while we have it. Even our wedding vows mention in sickness and health, there isn't a part where we kill someone and pat ourselves on the back for being humane. Maybe that works for horses, but humanity deserves more.

  5. This made me cry buckets. Very poignant. I'm so sorry for your loss.

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