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My Life – My Choice: A Sister’s Heartfelt Farewell to Kathy Wardle

MyLife-MyChoice-Lesley_600

Lesley Forrester

It was just over a year ago that Kathy Wardle confided in VisionTV producer John Thornton that – after years of chronic pain that could not be fought off by medicine or further surgeries – she would be flying to Switzerland to end her life via medically assisted death.

Right by Wardle’s side the entire time was her sister Lesley Forrester. While saddened that her sister’s life had to come to a close on such a note, Forrester was a supportive, comforting force throughout Wardle’s final days.

“My Life – My Choice” premieres Monday, March 14 at 10pm ET/7pm PT on VisionTV. It will be preceded at 9pm ET/6pm PT by a special edition of theZoomer, where the round table will explore the changing landscape of assisted dying in Canada.

“As the anniversary of my sister Kathy’s assisted death approaches, I find that memories of the weeks and days leading up to March 17, 2015 are popping up unexpectedly,” explains Forrester. “For instance, even though I have been in my new condo for about a month, suddenly [the other day], the whiteness and newness of my bathroom reminded me of the bathroom in the hotel in Switzerland on the last morning of her life.

“Each time these memories occur, I check in with my emotions to see what I am feeling,” she continues. “After almost 365 days, [there is] still a calmness and peacefulness that she is no longer suffering – and a gratitude to the Swiss people for leading the way to make assisted death possible, even for those of us from other countries where there is not yet adequate legislation. At one level I understand people’s desire to put safeguards in place to make sure that no one is pressured into an assisted death that is unwanted. But having watched Kathy repeat, seemingly endlessly, her continued desire to die, I have the direct experience to counter these fears. And so I have a deep level of trust in the process.”

Kathy_MyLife_600_7

At Wardle’s 2015 funeral, Forrester delivered a moving eulogy in honour of her sister. In it, she discussed the great life lived and the unfortunate way in which it needed to end. But above all, she expressed great love and appreciation for a woman that chose to live life her way.

Here is an excerpt from Forrester’s eulogy:

I am guessing that most of you remember best the good times and the ear-to-ear smile that she wore in almost 300 pictures that I scanned – onto a DVD that will run in the background as we celebrate her life. Bubbly, animated, larger than life, are just a few of the descriptors used by friends who emailed me when I returned from Switzerland. They were her public persona.

How hugely difficult it was for her, as her life shrank more and more over almost ten years of increasing pain. Friends saw less and less of her as she discovered it was too painful to sit even through one full meal any more. It was just so totally unlike her to ever be the first to leave a party. And so totally unlike her to be at a loss for good news to talk about. 

I think of her as the first in many ways. She was probably the first female at North Toronto Collegiate, to run for president of the student council. She didn’t get in, but she gave it a courageous try. 

She was in the very first graduating class at York University, driving around in our family’s yellow jeepster, often with the top down even in winter. (It had a wonderful heater.) She was on the very first Student Council at York University. 

She did some very innovative “firsts” when she became a phys-ed teacher in Ottawa, organizing the first women’s soccer, and introducing co-ed phys-ed for students in the two-year program at her school. 

Kathy_MyLife_600_3

Leadership seemed to come naturally to her and she tackled new things with a fearless attitude. She loved downhill skiing, and though she tackled some tough runs, and competed on an icy hill, that was one of the few areas in her life when she didn’t actually come first. She came third – not too shabby an outcome, especially if you didn’t notice that she came third out of a grand total of three competitors. But the toughest part of that race for her was that they let a young boy out of the gate while she was still on her way down the hill and he actually managed to pass her on his way down. 

But she was able to laugh at herself and she related that story to me in her 74th year.

Of all her accomplishments – as a top real estate agent in Cabbagetown, and so on, what awed me the most, was her tireless energy, generosity, and determination to leave her personal affairs and finances, even her house and will, in the easiest possible condition, for me to deal with it all after she died. 

After almost ten years of escalating and often intolerable pain, she persisted with life until she could do her best for me and for her friends, organizing the sale of her house, the sending of no less than 26 different documents to Switzerland, the filming of a TV and a radio documentary to publicize the need for new legislation in Canada on the right to die with dignity, and then she left it all behind, her way.

She came to a place of peace in the end, in Switzerland. She had two consultations there with a medical doctor volunteering with an organization called Dignitas. He turned out to be a retired orthopedic surgeon who had specialized in the very same operations she had had here in Canada. It helped immensely that he was 100% behind her decision. It gave it a special kind of validity for her. 

Kathy_MyLife_600_14

Before she died, she suggested that we have a secret phrase she could use. To let me know that she had crossed over successfully to a peaceful place of no pain. I only felt the need to keep the phrase secret for a few days. By then there were so many occurrences of it that I wanted everyone to know. The phrase was “Monarch butterfly.” To give you just some of the examples, her closest friend reported seeing no less than 4 Monarch butterflies in Key West Florida, when their normal migratory route is to Mexico. Another friend recalls pointing one out to her spouse in Saratoga, again, an unlikely place. I now have a butterfly lamp, 2 pieces of butterfly pottery, two butterfly sympathy cards, a butterfly fridge magnet and a butterfly cigarette case I am using for credit cards. I could go on.

So I think it’s safe to say that Kath is either in a very peaceful place or she’s very very busy sending butterflies to all of us in every way she can imagine.

I will miss her greatly. But I’m pretty clear that she’s got her wings. They may be more like a butterfly’s than an angel’s, but she got them her way.

“My Life – My Choice” premieres Monday, March 14 at 10pm ET/7pm PT on VisionTV. It will be preceded at 9pm ET/6pm PT by a special edition of theZoomer, where the panel will discuss assisted dying.

Do you have an opinion on “My Life – My Choice” and/or the topic of assisted suicide? If so, please click here to join the conversation on VisionTV’s official Facebook page.

MyLife-MyChoice-Lesley_600 Lesley Forrester[/caption]

It was just over a year ago that Kathy Wardle confided in VisionTV producer John Thornton that – after years of chronic pain that could not be fought off by medicine or further surgeries – she would be flying to Switzerland to end her life via medically assisted death.

Right by Wardle’s side the entire time was her sister Lesley Forrester. While saddened that her sister’s life had to come to a close on such a note, Forrester was a supportive, comforting force throughout Wardle’s final days.

“My Life – My Choice” premieres Monday, March 14 at 10pm ET/7pm PT on VisionTV. It will be preceded at 9pm ET/6pm PT by a special edition of theZoomer, where the round table will explore the changing landscape of assisted dying in Canada.

“As the anniversary of my sister Kathy’s assisted death approaches, I find that memories of the weeks and days leading up to March 17, 2015 are popping up unexpectedly,” explains Forrester. “For instance, even though I have been in my new condo for about a month, suddenly [the other day], the whiteness and newness of my bathroom reminded me of the bathroom in the hotel in Switzerland on the last morning of her life.

“Each time these memories occur, I check in with my emotions to see what I am feeling,” she continues. “After almost 365 days, [there is] still a calmness and peacefulness that she is no longer suffering – and a gratitude to the Swiss people for leading the way to make assisted death possible, even for those of us from other countries where there is not yet adequate legislation. At one level I understand people’s desire to put safeguards in place to make sure that no one is pressured into an assisted death that is unwanted. But having watched Kathy repeat, seemingly endlessly, her continued desire to die, I have the direct experience to counter these fears. And so I have a deep level of trust in the process.”

Kathy_MyLife_600_7

At Wardle’s 2015 funeral, Forrester delivered a moving eulogy in honour of her sister. In it, she discussed the great life lived and the unfortunate way in which it needed to end. But above all, she expressed great love and appreciation for a woman that chose to live life her way.

Here is an excerpt from Forrester’s eulogy:

I am guessing that most of you remember best the good times and the ear-to-ear smile that she wore in almost 300 pictures that I scanned – onto a DVD that will run in the background as we celebrate her life. Bubbly, animated, larger than life, are just a few of the descriptors used by friends who emailed me when I returned from Switzerland. They were her public persona.

How hugely difficult it was for her, as her life shrank more and more over almost ten years of increasing pain. Friends saw less and less of her as she discovered it was too painful to sit even through one full meal any more. It was just so totally unlike her to ever be the first to leave a party. And so totally unlike her to be at a loss for good news to talk about. 

I think of her as the first in many ways. She was probably the first female at North Toronto Collegiate, to run for president of the student council. She didn’t get in, but she gave it a courageous try. 

She was in the very first graduating class at York University, driving around in our family’s yellow jeepster, often with the top down even in winter. (It had a wonderful heater.) She was on the very first Student Council at York University. 

She did some very innovative “firsts” when she became a phys-ed teacher in Ottawa, organizing the first women’s soccer, and introducing co-ed phys-ed for students in the two-year program at her school. 

Kathy_MyLife_600_3

Leadership seemed to come naturally to her and she tackled new things with a fearless attitude. She loved downhill skiing, and though she tackled some tough runs, and competed on an icy hill, that was one of the few areas in her life when she didn’t actually come first. She came third – not too shabby an outcome, especially if you didn’t notice that she came third out of a grand total of three competitors. But the toughest part of that race for her was that they let a young boy out of the gate while she was still on her way down the hill and he actually managed to pass her on his way down. 

But she was able to laugh at herself and she related that story to me in her 74th year.

Of all her accomplishments – as a top real estate agent in Cabbagetown, and so on, what awed me the most, was her tireless energy, generosity, and determination to leave her personal affairs and finances, even her house and will, in the easiest possible condition, for me to deal with it all after she died. 

After almost ten years of escalating and often intolerable pain, she persisted with life until she could do her best for me and for her friends, organizing the sale of her house, the sending of no less than 26 different documents to Switzerland, the filming of a TV and a radio documentary to publicize the need for new legislation in Canada on the right to die with dignity, and then she left it all behind, her way.

She came to a place of peace in the end, in Switzerland. She had two consultations there with a medical doctor volunteering with an organization called Dignitas. He turned out to be a retired orthopedic surgeon who had specialized in the very same operations she had had here in Canada. It helped immensely that he was 100% behind her decision. It gave it a special kind of validity for her. 

Kathy_MyLife_600_14

Before she died, she suggested that we have a secret phrase she could use. To let me know that she had crossed over successfully to a peaceful place of no pain. I only felt the need to keep the phrase secret for a few days. By then there were so many occurrences of it that I wanted everyone to know. The phrase was “Monarch butterfly.” To give you just some of the examples, her closest friend reported seeing no less than 4 Monarch butterflies in Key West Florida, when their normal migratory route is to Mexico. Another friend recalls pointing one out to her spouse in Saratoga, again, an unlikely place. I now have a butterfly lamp, 2 pieces of butterfly pottery, two butterfly sympathy cards, a butterfly fridge magnet and a butterfly cigarette case I am using for credit cards. I could go on.

So I think it’s safe to say that Kath is either in a very peaceful place or she’s very very busy sending butterflies to all of us in every way she can imagine.

I will miss her greatly. But I’m pretty clear that she’s got her wings. They may be more like a butterfly’s than an angel’s, but she got them her way.

“My Life – My Choice” premieres Monday, March 14 at 10pm ET/7pm PT on VisionTV. It will be preceded at 9pm ET/6pm PT by a special edition of theZoomer, where the panel will discuss assisted dying.

Do you have an opinion on “My Life – My Choice” and/or the topic of assisted suicide? If so, please click here to join the conversation on VisionTV’s official Facebook page.

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