Every two weeks, I will be profiling an extraordinary human being who lives in our community. If you know someone who is doing something interesting with their life, I want to hear about it. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kai Rannik’s mother died laughing.
“She was literally cracking jokes,” says Kai. “She died very much as she lived, with grace and dignity and on her own terms.”
In Helle Rannik’s final days, she was also glued to a novel, reminiscing about the good old days with her family and as good as she’d ever been since the cancer had taken hold of her. In a way, she died a beautiful death. She went peacefully and without intolerable suffering; just the way she wanted. Helle Rannik was one of the first people in Muskoka to have a physician-assisted death and having that choice was the main reason she was able to leave this earth at ease. She wasn’t plagued by fear and she wasn’t scared of dying.
“She knew what cancer looked like and she was unwilling to travel that path,” says Kai. “She had spent her entire life absolutely refusing defeat. For her, at the end, admitting to intolerable suffering was the hardest thing she ever had to do. Admitting that to strangers was huge.”
Kai shared a special bond with her mother. They were best friends. She misses her every single day. It will be a year in January since her mother died, and the wound of losing her is still fresh. But time heals and Kai is not one to wallow in despair. She’s not big on shedding tears either but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t feel. In fact, she feels rather strongly and she’s doing something that would make her mother proud. She’s become an advocate for medically assisted dying. It was something her mother wanted Kai to do when pain became intolerable and the end was near.
Since her beloved mother’s passing, whenever an opportunity arises, Kai willingly shares her story to anyone who wants to listen. She’s had a few speaking engagements at AdvantAge Ontario, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the best possible aging experience. And it was through that organization that Kai got the chance to speak with those who work in the long-term care industry, including doctors, nurses and personal support workers. She’s also taken it upon herself to speak to local groups about the advantages of medically assisted dying and says she simply hopes to raise awareness on this fairly new law.
I have the ability to tell a tale of one person’s decision that happened with an overall feeling of optimism and gratitude. I understand every experience may be different, but in this particular instance, mom was grateful. I miss her immensely, but I’m glad this choice was available at a time when she needed it.
She speaks passionately and personally and finds it very rewarding. She likes to paint a picture of who her mother was and what a medically assisted death can look like. If you can’t find a reason to laugh, then Kai says she’s not telling her mother’s story right. Laughter is the best medicine. Helle loved to laugh.
Kai believes her mom was lucky enough to be given a choice on how she was going to leave the world. And it’s one that everyone who is terminally ill needs to be made aware of. It was because of that choice that Kai’s mother had the opportunity to die peacefully.
When I get to talk about my mom, even in the last chapter, her story would be inspirational. It’s a privilege to share that. As much as she was a fiercely determined woman, she was fairly private. It’s about making sure this is an option and one that is available not to just her.
When the legislation (Bill C-14) passed in June 2016 that made it legal for physicians to assist terminally ill patients in dying, Kai says her mother wanted to take advantage of having that choice. At the time, Helle was living at The Pines in Bracebridge and her battle with cancer had already taken so much. She wasn’t afraid of dying. She was afraid of cancer.
It wasn’t really a surprise when old age and cancer and mobility issues were pecking away at her dignity that she made her own mind up as to how she was going to leave.
There really isn’t too much entailed in medically assisted dying in Canada. It’s a process, says Kai. First, you have to convince two doctors and witnesses that you’re of sound mind. Then you have to prove that you’re ill and experiencing intolerable suffering. (It is up to the patient to determine their level of pain and if it is intolerable.)
The way Kai sees it, she’s just helping to spread the word that medically assisted dying is a choice, and it’s one that people should embrace. It can make the terrible situation of losing a loved one who’s in a lot of pain much easier to cope with.
“It’s important for people to recognize that they have this choice. We’re all going to die eventually. Our friends and loved ones… it’s something we’re all going to face.”
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