On July 7, 2019 my grandma, Margie Pierson, died peacefully and surrounded by loved ones.
In 2017, my Nana was diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm. Initially it was stable, but at the beginning of this year, the aneurysm grew rapidly and it became life-threatening. Due to other health issues, my Nana was not a surgical candidate. There was nothing that could be done.
In May 2019, my Nana’s doctors gave her a prognosis of six months or less to live and let her know that she would either pass away due to decompensation from her aneurysm or it would rupture and cause massive internal bleeding. She enrolled in hospice immediately and I came to visit her two weeks later for Mother’s Day weekend.
During my visit, my grandma decided she wanted to do a living wake, stating she didn’t want to miss out on the good food and wine. She told us, “I don’t want any of that cheap stuff,” so our family quickly got to work. We celebrated her that weekend and then I returned home to Arizona, while my grandmother remained at her home in Colorado.
My grandma was my best friend. We had a really special relationship and when I got back home to Arizona I was devastated by the idea that I had probably just seen her for the last time. I was a mess and thought, that can’t be it. I decided I needed to take time off of work to spend more time with her.
I soon returned to Colorado for six weeks as my grandma’s primary caregiver. Prior to my return, my grandmother and I had multiple conversations about her wanting to access Colorado’s End-of-Life Options Act. She shared that she had asked her doctors about it in 2017 when she was first diagnosed, and they had told her that she wasn’t yet eligible but that they would support her decision down the line if she wanted to revisit the option once she had a terminal prognosis.
The week that I arrived, we went to see her doctor to start the request process to access medical aid in dying. I went with my Nana to every appointment and to her pharmacy to pick up her medications – I was her right hand. She thought through when she wanted to take her aid-in-dying medication and decided on July 7.
Similar to my grandma’s living wake, there was good food and wine, photos out for people to look at, and about twenty people joined throughout the day to say their goodbyes. She wanted people around her and she wanted it to be a good send off. She was very intentional, knew exactly what she wanted and how she wanted to do it – down to her telling me, “We need to do it while the sun is still out because there’s some depression in the darkness.”
Around 4/4:30pm she decided it was time. She had already taken her anti-nausea medication so I mixed up her medication with apple juice and I had a glass of wine next to it so if she wanted to wash it down with wine she could. I also changed her into what she called her “death clothes” and then she drank it, took a sip of wine, and said her last goodbyes. Within five minutes she was asleep and within the hour she had passed away.
It was everything that she wanted and could have hoped for. She did not want to die at all, but to her it was worse to bleed out and for me to find her dead on the floor. She just wanted her death to be peaceful for herself and for her family.
I recall following Brittany Maynard’s story five years ago, but I had limited knowledge about medical aid in dying before supporting my grandmother through this process. To me, it’s pretty simple why people should support this option. I couldn’t imagine a better way out – not many people get the opportunity to live and die by their own terms.
My grandmother was a pistol. She was incredibly independent and tenacious. She lived a very full and admirable life, and she lived it on her own terms. She was amazing and I miss her every single second. The alternative to her utilizing medical aid in dying would have been a million times more painful.