North Delta Reporter columnist ML Burke.

COLUMN: A final word

ML Burke’s final column for the North Delta Reporter

Dear loyal readers,

I’m not sure how to tell you this other than to just lay it out and let you absorb it as I have been doing over the past few weeks.

The truth is Jeopardy host Alex Trebek and I have the same disease, pancreatic cancer, and it’s a bad one. He bravely fought his with treatments and thought he had won, until it came back even stronger than the first time.

We are both in stage 4, and mine has spread to other organs. I fought cancer 15 years ago with radiation, chemotherapy and surgery, which proved successful then. This time is different.

I got the diagnosis three months after chasing false leads such as a fake heart attack and a mini stroke. I knew after talking to my doctors that I wasn’t going to fight it because the treatments can often be worse than the disease and only prolong the inevitable.

I’ve had a good and interesting life and I’m not afraid to die, especially since MAiD (Medical Assistance in Dying) is available and we don’t have to unnecessarily suffer to a prolonged and bitter end. I am so relieved that I can choose a date when I’m ready to travel to my next great adventure.

Death is hardest on those we leave behind. We pass, but they continue to grieve and for their suffering my heart weeps. I also feel their pain. My wonderful family and friends have chosen to support me in my decision and are spoiling me with love and attention. When I do choose my exit date I know it will be a good death. I will simply fall away into that lovely long, long sleep.

There is a beautiful choral round sung in four parts called “Death is a long, long sleep, Sleep is a short, short death”, written by Joseph Haydn. Ronnie Gilbert (of folk quartet The Weavers fame) taught it to a small group of us in the ‘70s and I have always loved the simplicity and beauty of it.

“Death is a long, long sleep. Sleep is a short, short death which softens as it ends life’s grief, death is a long sleep.”

I cannot leave without commenting on Delta Hospice’s anti-MAiD stance. Their belief that “we shall do no harm” would most certainly be doing me and my loved ones’ harm by prolonging my suffering or making me move somewhere else in a very fragile end-of-life state. ‘Cruel’ is the only the word that comes to mind. My hope is that Fraser Health will step up and make them see the error of their ways, never mind that they are breaking the law.

And then there is Paterson Park just sitting there waiting to be put to good use. Don’t worry, I’ll be up there somewhere, poking you with my irritating affordable housing advocacy stick, reminding you of humanity’s priorities.

I’ll say farewell for now and leave you with a few words by poet and author Patrick Overton:

When we walk to the edge of all the light we have

and take that step into the darkness of the unknown,

you must believe one of two things will happen:

There will be something solid for you to stand on,

or, you will be taught how to fly

(“Faith” from The Leaning Tree, 1975)

ML Burke retired from the health sector to work on issues such as affordable housing. She sits on the Delta Seniors Planning Team, the City of Delta’s Community Liveability Advisory Committee and the BC Seniors Advocate’s Council of Advisors.

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