The obituary last week may have caught some people’s attention: Bob Wilson, 71, and his wife Margi, 73, died on the same day, May 25, at Charlottetown’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
They planned it that way.
“They went out on their own terms,” said their son Scott Wilson, sitting beside his sister Nicolle Hogan in her sunny kitchen in Cumberland, overlooking the sparkling Northumberland Strait.
The doctors told the Wilsons’ three children they would be the first couple in P.E.I. to use medical assistance in dying (MAID) at the same time.
Although their parents handled their deaths privately, Scott and Nicolle agreed to talk to CBC News about it to celebrate their parents’ bravery and to try to reduce any stigma around MAID.
‘Loved each other immensely’
Bob and Margi Wilson were lifelong partners, “the love of each other’s life,” said Scott. They met at Prince of Wales College (now Holland College) in Charlottetown and married 50 years ago.
“Just a cute, beautiful couple that loved each other immensely … they lived a really good life,” Scott said. They were never apart.
Bob was a solid, happy man, working first with his mother and then Margi at their real estate business. After Bob retired, the couple came to live with Nicolle and her family.
Margi worked alongside her husband at his business, but had suffered from the pain of multiple sclerosis for the last 30 years. Early on, it put her in a wheelchair, but when her grandchildren were born, she rallied and became very active, even walking several half-marathons.
In August 2019, Bob was diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer that had spread to his lungs.
Bob was determined to fight it and stick around as long as possible. He tried many different therapies, and he’d actually had some positive news that his cancer had stopped growing when Margi’s MS flared up and put her in the hospital this past February. She didn’t come home after that.
The couple had been trying to look after one another, but they became run down and frail. They weren’t able to winter in Alabama the last two years because of Bob’s illness. The warm climate had helped Margi feel better.
In hospital, Margi continued to go downhill. She didn’t feel like eating or drinking much, and her weight plummeted. In mid-March, Margi told her family she was ready to die, and would do so naturally — and that they shouldn’t to try to revive her if the time came.
“She was just sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Scott said. “It’s a big shock to be told, ‘I don’t want to live anymore because my life is so miserable.'”
The family decided they needed to support their mother in her decision.
“You might not personally like the decision, but from us it’s a selfish side that you don’t want them to go and leave,” Scott said.
“It wasn’t about us anymore,” said Nicolle.
Their father was also shocked, they said.
“I just remember seeing his face. When he heard the news, his heart — it was broken,” Scott said. “The love of his life was giving up.”
‘He wanted to go with his love’
At the hospital, as the family was talking about options including nursing care, Nicolle heard about MAID. She mentioned it to her mother.
“We are definitely a family that is always about looking at, what are all of our options? Let’s explore all of our options,” Nicolle said.
Margi told the family she’d like to choose assisted dying. Bob got all the assessments he needed if he also decided to choose assisted dying, but he didn’t make a decision until May 7.
He’d become increasingly frail, unsteady on his feet and lacked an appetite. His pain was unbearable. He decided he and Margi would take their final milestone as a couple: an assisted death, together.
“He wanted to go with his love,” Scott said. “The pain of not going with her would have broken him.”
The hospital bed next to Margi was available, so it became Bob’s. Scott and Nicolle’s brother Tony was permitted to travel from his home in Brooklyn, N.Y., to P.E.I. on compassionate grounds.
Scott and Nicolle said doctors checked in with the couple often to make sure they hadn’t changed their minds.
In the last weeks, the grandchildren gathered in their grandparents’ room to keep them company, doing crafts and playing music. They reminisced about fun times the close-knit family had spent together. Nothing went unsaid.
“It was bittersweet,” Scott said of the scene.
“I joked with my mom, I said it’s almost Romeo and Juliet without the poison,” Scott said. “We use humour in our family as a coping mechanism. In a way, there was somewhat of a relief that a decision had been made, because it was very up and down.”
Watching the clock
Margi lost consciousness in the days before, and the family thought she might die naturally before the agreed-upon date. They kept a vigil around the clock, with one or more of the three children always in the room with Bob and Margi for the week before they died.
Nicolle and Tony stayed awake most of the night on May 24 and into the early hours of the next day, watching the clock and counting down the hours they had left with their parents. “We were just left with our own thoughts and emotions,” she said.
At 7 a.m. on May 25, doctors came into the room for a final check. They took the family to a different room, away from their parents, and briefed them on the procedure.
Even though Margi wasn’t able to verbally consent, recent changes to the assisted dying law made it possible for doctors to carry out her wishes. Bob indicated to the doctors that he wanted to go through with it, too.
“He was committed that, as they did in life, they would do this final step together,” Scott said. “They were both terminal — there was no coming out of the situation.”
They pushed the couple’s beds together so they could be close.
Nicolle held her father’s hand and they said “I love you” to one another.
First, doctors gave the couple injections that put them to sleep. After Bob was snoring peacefully, doctors gave them both a series of further injections over about 10 minutes.
They died together, peacefully.
“You could just see the weight of all the pain and the suffering was gone,” said Scott.
‘Really proud of my parents’
Nicolle said she wants people who are terminally ill to be aware that “options do exist” and they should be informed of all choices available to them.
“Know that the option is available, if you so choose,” she said. “My message is — really look at the quality of life and remember those happy times and think of what’s right for you as an individual rather than everybody else around you.
“There shouldn’t be any judgment,” she added.
Scott said he wanted to share his parents’ journey because he is immensely proud of them.
“I’m really proud of my parents and the hard decision they had to make — that takes a lot of guts,” he said.
The family is still in mourning and say they will have to adjust to all the “firsts” without their parents.
Nicolle’s house is quiet without Bob and Margi living downstairs. Nicolle grips the crocheted heart her father held as he died tightly.
“I do sleep with it sometimes,” she said. “It’s comfort.”