February 23, 2005
For those who cannot speak...
There has been much said about the Terri Schiavo case, and a good blog following the situation can be found at BlogsForTerri.

Much has been said about the case itself, but what comes to mind for me is what our family went through when my cousin passed away in 1997. She was 47, in basically good health and was mid-divorce when she got a bad flu. Lani was from a small town up north and had been in Vancouver for a course when things went haywire. She was hospitalized with pneumonia, which rapidly progressed. Within 9 days, she was gone. It was an absolutely horrendous 9 days, and as I'm sure anyone who has witnessed a loved one die, it was one of the hardest things I have ever been through. I am the only daughter in my family and Lani was her Mom's only child. Together, we were as close as the sisters we had never had. So watching my sister pass away tore me deeply and I miss her every day.

Lani had a stroke during her hospitalization. It was a massive stroke, which for all intents and purposes destroyed her brain. However, before she lapsed into a coma, she looked into our eyes with such purpose and fear, I will never forget. She knew then that she would not make it. I know that now, but as she was unable to speak, we could only guess what trauma she was trying to communicate to us. Mercifully, she passed away a few days later. Had she not, had her body somehow allowed her to live, we would be experiencing similar to what the Schiavo's now are.

Once her death was announced, her estranged husband came back into our lives. He had been an abusive man, and it had taken everything in her power to leave him some months before. 15 years of marriage to a man that made her life a living hell had left her deeply wounded. They had lived in a small town, where he carried on a promiscuous life and didn't care who knew it. When she left him, with the help of a woman's shelter, it took her absolutely everything to get back on her feet. When she got sick, she was taking courses to become a counselor, with the intention of helping other abused women to get the help they truly needed.

Of course, this did not sit well with The Frog (our pet name for her ex). He was a fairly public figure in their town and played his cards well. He contested her estate and said that they were intending to rekindle their relationship when she died. Not a smidgen of truth in it, but my cousin did not have a will, let alone any sort of power of attorney. All she had done thus far was to have taken his name off her pension and bank accounts, and drawn up separation papers. In a twist of fate, the person responsible for filing the pension papers forgot to follow through so while the papers had been signed, they had not been filed.

She was only 47. Why would she worry about wills and morbid things like that? Oddly, we'd had such a conversation during her last visit in Dec '96. She had told me that she was finally ready to do the paperwork and make her separation real. She urged me to make sure my paperwork was done too, as my ex and I were still attached legally at the time.

The Frog took every advantage of the situation. Once he found out his name was still technically on the pension, he sued us for her estate. Not that there was much, but it didn't matter. He smelled money and he went for it.

For the 18 months following her death, we were torn through the wringer by the legal system. Diaries were subpoenaed, every receipt had to be kept. I had to give a formal affidavit and went through a discovery trial as a witness to her intent. If losing her was not enough, we had to lose her again and again every single day while The Frog pushed on. My Aunt was absolutely emotionally destroyed by the experience. She had lost her husband only a year before and now had lost her only child. To this day, my Aunt has never recovered.

Finally, after many many months of prolonged agony, we gave in partially to The Frog. It was not what we wanted to do, but my Aunt was close to a complete meltdown. Her depression had gone from mere grief to requiring hospitalization. It was just easier in the end to pay him off and get out. And that's all it took. He got what he came for and walked away smiling, while we attempted to pick up our shattered lives.

I listen to this Florida story and I can't help but think 'There but for the grace of God, go I'. I can empathize with Terri's parents and family, as they watch her go through this, and have to deal with her husband, who seems to be bent on some political agenda. The man has moved on, he has children with a new woman and has been able to have a life. The fact he could even fall in love again is so highly offensive and disrespectful to his wife, and to her family. Can they move on? Can they conduct a normal life? I'll bet not. Their every day existence is consumed by the care for their daughter.

The one thing we learned from our heartbreak is that you are never too young to have a will, and a written plan for care if you are incapacitated. I tell all my friends to make one. It doesn't take long, and it's really not that hard. Accidents and illness befall us, and cannot be planned for. No one likes to think of our own mortality but death is a promise that is made to us the day we are born. We owe it to our loved ones to ensure that we do everything we can to ease the suffering they will go through.

Vancouver, British Columbia
A patriotic Canadian full of visions of a better Canada, random thoughts and a lot of hot air. Who am I? A struggling writer and photographer, who looks forward to a better Canada. I read. A lot. I learn. A lot. I push myself. A lot. The world is a small place, and getting smaller every day. I'm proud to have friends in every corner of the earth, and abide by the old adage that there are no strangers, only friends we haven't met yet.

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