In October 2014, Brittany Maynard published a video announcing that, as she faced death from terminal brain cancer at the age of 29, she was planning to end her life in a peaceful manner using the Oregon Death with Dignity Act. The video went viral and helped prompt more than half of the country’s state legislatures to debate assisted dying legislation modeled on the groundbreaking Oregon law.
Brittany’s advocacy had tangible results: Just before the first anniversary of Brittany’s death, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the End of Life Option Act, making the Golden State a fourth state with a Death with Dignity statute (the law went into effect in June 2016).
Two years after Brittany exercised her right under the Oregon law, her mother Deborah Ziegler honors her daughter’s legacy in the memoir Wild and Precious Life.
Deborah’s story of living through her daughter’s final days offers, in the publisher’s words, “hope, empowerment, and inspiration to people struggling with end-of-life issues. It is a touching tribute to the enduring power of a mother and daughter’s love.”
The book is out now from Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, and available at all fine booksellers.
We are offering a free copy personally signed by Deborah to the first 50 people who donate $175 or more by December 31.
An Excerpt from Wild and Precious Life
Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.
This is a story about ordinary people who accomplished extraordinary things. A story of a family that weathered more than one horrific storm. The last storm was the darkest, leaving in its wake scarred human beings and broken hearts. No one can look into my eyes and miss this. The melancholy is there, even when I smile. I see suffering etched in my husband’s face, as well. We are changed forever by what happened.
Often people ask me, “What did you learn from your journey?” In the early stages of grief I remember thinking, Not only am I supposed to survive, put one foot in front of the other, but I’m supposed to have learned something, too? It was an unspoken rebuke, a visceral reaction to the question. Over time, through the process of grieving, I have begun to understand that the effort put forth in answering this question is valuable, and perhaps even transformative. At least it has been for me.
Shortly after my daughter’s death, I got a tattoo on the instep of my right foot, reminding me not to let pain make me hard or bitter. It says, “Be soft.” Brittany’s birth date is inked below the words.
This book is my “soft.” In it, I’m exposing my underbelly. I’m revealing my daughter’s beautiful spirit, her fury and fearlessness, her resolute determination, our frantic struggle as we staggered toward something that flew in the face of the natural order of things. No mother should bury her child. No child should have to drag her mother, kicking and screaming, out of denial and into ugly reality. My brave Brittany faced the truth sooner than I did. It took me a while, but ultimately I was forced to look death square in the eye. “Death is coming for me, Momma. Don’t you get that?”
More than life itself, for twenty-nine years I loved my daughter. Yet I’ve learned that she doesn’t have to be physically present in order for me to love her. I can love her even after she soared away from me. My heart is open for her to fly in and out of at will.
My daughter did the best she could. I’m rock solid in that truth. She tried so hard to do what was right. This idea sounds simple, but it is not. Look around at those who disappoint you, hurt you. Are they doing the best they can? Are you? Does it make us feel safer to think our best is better than theirs?
Now look at those who are terminally ill. Are they doing their best? How dare we judge them. How dare we tell them how they ought to die. How dare we impose our beliefs on them. How dare we try to manipulate them into fighting when they have no more fight left.
Everyone who walked Brittany toward death was fallible. We were angry, sad, brave, and frightened. We were human. But each of us in the little yellow house in Portland was doing his or her best. That is one of my big lessons, and it gives me great comfort. My daughter knew that she was loved. Even in the worst of it, she knew that, just as I knew she loved me. Love sustained us, then and now.
Our lives are wild and precious, and I’ve promised to try to live mine with those words in my heart; in my laughter; in my plans for living boldly. That’s what Brittany said she wanted for me.