Photo: Stuart Forster/REX USA.
It's an unusual suicide note: calm, eloquent, reasoned. It's nearly 1,700 words long and was published online just hours after the writer took her own life. What's more, the writer's husband spoke out — to the press, no less — about why he wanted as many people as possible to read the letter. He was a supportive witness by his wife's side when she died.
Gillian Bennett, 83, committed suicide around noon on August 18 at her Canadian home, The New Zealand Herald reported today. She had been suffering from dementia, and made the choice to die before her dementia progressed so far that she could no longer make choices at all.
"It happened amazingly quickly," her husband, Jonathan, told the Herald. "After about half an hour her eyes were open but I couldn't see her, her chest was not moving. It looked like she was gone. I waited another half hour and then I called our doctor and then the police were called." Gillian's four-page goodbye letter — published on Dead At Noon, a website created specifically for the purpose — testifies to the sorrow she felt in leaving behind her husband and their two children, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. But, it also speaks to the strength of Gillian's conviction in her decision.
"I will take my life today around noon," she opens the letter. "It is time. Dementia is taking its toll and I have nearly lost myself. I have nearly lost me.
"I have known that I have dementia, a progressive loss of memory and judgment, for three years. It is a stealthy, stubborn, and oh-so reliable disease. Ever so gradually at first, much faster now, I am turning into a vegetable. I find it hard to keep in my mind that my granddaughter is coming in three day's time and not today. 'Where do we keep the X?' (coffee / milkshake-maker / backspace on my keyboard / the book I was just reading) happens all the time...
"There are so many things we obsess about. We seem to have a need to get things right. Should we bring a bottle of wine or some flowers to the party? Will jeans and my new boots work, or is that too casual? How do I find a new mate?
"We do NOT talk much about how we die. Yet, facing death is thoroughly interesting and absorbing and challenging. I have choices which I have reviewed, and either adopted or discarded. I think I have hit upon the right choice for me." Just before these words were published, Gillian had passed away while holding her husband's hand.
Photo: Courtesy of Strange Day Photo.
"Above everything else, Gillian wanted to get a conversation going — and by God, has she," Jonathan told the Herald. "I am very proud of her. I miss her horribly but I have no sense that 'oh, this was a mistake.'" Jonathon did not assist Gillian with the suicide, and none of Gillian's other family members were present. Helping someone to commit suicide is illegal in Canada, as it is in most cases in the U.S., which helps explain the recent rise in "suicide tourism" in countries such as Switzerland. (Doctor-assisted suicide is legal in five states — New Mexico, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont — but only for residents of those states.)
In her letter, not only does Gillian explain her suicide, she voices her support for the right to die. Repeatedly, she emphasizes that she does not wish to be a financial burden on the taxpayers of Canada, nor an emotional burden on her husband of 60 years or their family; instead, she chooses to leave this life — which she calls "a party that I was dropped into" — before her body withers and her mind spirals into very literal oblivion.
She leaves behind a call to action, as well. "Everybody by the age of 50 who is mentally competent should make a living will that states how she wants to die," Gillian urges. She closes her letter with a fond farewell. "Today, now, I go cheerfully and so thankfully into that good night. Jonathan, the courageous, the faithful, the true and the gentle, surrounds me with company. I need no more.
"It is almost noon."