Marge Pelletier’s wife, Ann, used Maine’s Death with Dignity Act in 2021.
Ann Grinnell grew up in the beautiful town of Cohasset, Massachusetts. She was one of six children. She enjoyed telling the story about when she was six years old, and her mother brought her brother, Charlie, home from the hospital and Ann thought he was a gift for her. They remained very close until the time of her death.
We met at the local Unitarian Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We had so much in common right from the beginning. We both loved the outdoors, being active with bike riding, skiing, hiking, tennis, and boating. We loved to travel, taking many trips to places like Canada, Italy, France, Denmark, Iceland, and more. She also did a lot of traveling with her good friend, Judy, taking 11 humanitarian trips to Haiti over the years.
Before long, we both sold our individual homes and built a house together in Kittery, Maine, the town in which Ann had raised her two children. In 2016, a year after the federal government recognized same-sex marriage, we somewhat spontaneously got married while traveling through Denmark with two good friends.
Living Life Large
My wife, Ann, was outgoing with a huge personality. She was very community-oriented, serving as chair of our town council and a member of the planning board. Although she enjoyed politics on a national and local level, she never took things personally. She had great success in this realm, showing honesty and kindness in everything she did. She knew what needed to be done, and made sure things happened for the better.
Life never slowed down for Ann. A typical day involved three planned activities. I could always count on it and was mostly game to jump into the itinerary with her. I admired this about her.
A Kid at Heart
Ann’s love for children was what I think made her such a free-spirited, fun, and loving woman. She was self-employed for over 50 years. She taught swimming and was a professional photographer, mostly shooting weddings. She was admired for both careers.
Ann loved to socialize with her many friends, some going back to her childhood. She was very close to her children, and we all made an effort to visit each other often. Ann also felt strongly for the extended family and was always the person who brought everyone together and worked hard to keep people connected.
Ann was your typical extrovert. She thrived on social relationships, loved hosting parties for friends and family, and making people happy. The COVID-19 pandemic hit Ann hard, as we became very isolated.
Something is Wrong
In December 2018, we went to New York City to visit family. On the extremely loud subway ride home from a Broadway performance, Ann leaned over and told me that her right index finger had gone numb. Despite how loud it was on the train, I could have sworn her voice was somewhat garbled, which seemed odd but did not reoccur.
Fast forward two days later, after we were back in Maine, her primary care physician advised her to go to the ER to be evaluated. They performed several tests, including an MRI, and they told us there were two lesions on her brain. A few weeks later, a biopsy led to a confirmed glioblastoma diagnosis.
This was surreal, then devastating news, but ever the positive person that Ann was, she never complained. Much later, she never even mentioned the fact that she could no longer use her right arm. Fortunately, she was left-handed. She did, however, lose some vibrancy, spent less time talking, and was less involved. Slowing down made her sweeter and softer, and she made sure I knew that she appreciated me and those that helped her.
As Ann got sicker, her fatigue worsened, and despite her best efforts, her three-a-day activity roster went down to two. Eventually, as her illness continued to strip her of energy and physical strength, she turned to me and said, “We can only do one activity a day now.”
I think this upset me more than it did her.
The Right to Die with Dignity
As Ann was so involved with the community, she knew many local and state politicians. One of our state representatives was Patty Hymanson, whose children Ann had taught to swim many years earlier, and who, incidentally, sponsored the Death with Dignity bill in Maine. We remember hearing about our governor, Janet Mills, signing the Maine Death with Dignity Act in June 2019.
One day, I broached the topic with Ann, thinking that Death with Dignity could be an option to have available, since we really didn’t know how this was all going to play out. Ann was on board with exploring the option.
We first discussed Death with Dignity with Ann’s absolutely wonderful neuro-oncologist at Maine Medical, who was supportive. She referred us to Mid Coast Palliative Care, whose staff was so kind and excellent to work with. After several meetings, Ann was deemed a qualified candidate for assisted-dying.
Honoring Ann’s Choice
I honestly didn’t think Ann would actually use Maine’s Death with Dignity law but was happy she had that peace of mind this option allowed as her decline continued. One night we watched a segment on the local news about 49-year-old Erik Carlson, who had the same diagnosis as Ann, and who used Death with Dignity the day after his 50th birthday. He was surrounded by loved ones, got to say goodbye in the way he wanted, and it appeared to be a positive experience for everyone involved. We found it very enlightening, and this inspired something in Ann. She immediately reached out to her palliative care physician and primary care provider and started the process. She broke the news to her brother and me, and of course, got our support.
Just as Ann always got things done quickly and efficiently, this was no exception. After she went through the process with her doctors, and the prescription was written, I drove to Portland to the compounding pharmacy, and picked up her aid-in-dying medications.
On the morning of February 2, 2021, Ann woke up and announced that today was the day that she was going to take her Death with Dignity medications. I was a bit shocked, but as promised, supported her through the day and watched her have the death she deserved and so thoughtfully planned. I lost my spouse that day, but I am comforted knowing that she had control over the whole thing, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Every State Needs This Right
I share this story about my wife to attest to the importance of this law. I want everyone to know that Ann absolutely had a better death because of this right. Ann was taken too soon at only 70, but her life ended as fully and beautifully as she lived it.
It is without a doubt so critically important for all adults with terminal illness to have the ability to control their end-of-life journey.
As an RN/ARNP, I have seen far too much unnecessary suffering, physically and emotionally, with my patients and family members. Why has every state not made this vital option available? I am very proud to reside in Maine and know that we are ensuring this freedom of choice for our residents.