Dear Brittany Maynard-
I know there will be at least one person out there, who will take one look at this letter, note the date, and say, “you’re too late, stupid. She died on November 1.” But, in a way, that is the point. I am writing this letter because you died. Because you chose to end your life on your own terms rather than face a long and excruciating illness. I am writing you because in the face of the worst circumstance – death – where so many others will say there is no choice, you made a choice. You proved there is always a choice.
And in the months before your passing, you made choices. I’m not going to pretend that I understand what it is like to be 29-years-old, newly married, healthy, and happy, and then learn you have a terminal illness. Your life was supposed to last so many more years and it was supposed to be filled with love and children and dreams. Then in one dark moment, your life became a matter of weeks, and filled with pain, illness, and sadness. There is no way a young, healthy, and happy woman such as myself can ever understand what the last year of your life has been.
But I can see what you did. I can see that you chose to use the time you had left. And you chose to live. You achieved goals. You spent precious moments with your loved ones, creating memories for them that will keep your light burning even though you have gone from their side. You became the face and the voice of a cause important to you, and to countless others. You lived. You laughed. You loved.
You reminded me that each day is a choice. Each day is a choice to live. We all know those endlessly repeated lessons of seizing-the-day, living-life-to-the-fullest, no-one-knows-how-much-time-we-have-here, etc… But I know that for many of us, even with that knowledge buried in the depths of our souls, we still wake up each day focusing only on the drudgery of another day. We may love our lives, be happy with our situations, celebrate our families, and the like, but we still “sweat the small stuff” (there is always room for another cliché, right?). We still forget that each day is a new choice.
I don’t want to forget. This past year has not been one like yours. Not even close. But it has been a monumental year for me. I have set off on new adventures in volunteering. I have fallen in love everyday with my fiancé. I have championed my causes, the protection and preservation of wildlife. I have passionately pursued my interests through my hobbies. I have opened my heart to a new great love – the love of, and from, a dog. I have embraced, and failed, and re-embraced sobriety. I have proactively sought help for mental health concerns. I have tried to keep my eyes open to magic in daily life. I have tried to be brave.
Everyday I wake up, and I make choices. And when the day doesn’t go as I hoped, I try to be okay, and remind myself that tomorrow is a new day, with new choices to make. And your story, Brittany, your tremendous courage, your choices, have reminded me anew of the beauty that is in each day. A beauty we need to celebrate more. We can’t just harp on about live-every-moment-like-its-your-last and each-day-is-a-gift, but then turn around and spend hours planning how we’re going to get back at the co-worker that stole our yogurt, or chase down a fellow driver with horn a’blastin’ because he cut us off, or bring up the one time our lover forgot our anniversary during each and every fight, or fail to put down the smart phone for 3 minutes and revel in our preschooler’s finger painting masterpiece.
The drudgery of daily life is there; I’m not saying that it doesn’t exist, or that it just goes away. What I am saying is that we need to focus our attentions. What matters more? The guy who cut us off on the freeway? Or the silver glow of a full moon rising over that freeway as we’re driving home? And when it comes to our lives, when it comes to our choices, what is going to bring us the most happiness? The deepest fulfillment? The memories those of us who are lucky enough to live long enough for grandchildren, will sit and tell them when that time comes, and they ask us, “Grandma / Grandpa- what was it like when you were my age?” Like you did with your life, and the time you had left, Brittany, those questions should be the driving force of all our choices.
I know you wanted your legacy to be as an advocate for death with dignity. And I know your story has inspired many who also have terminal illness diagnoses, and who also face the choice of how they are going to spend the time they have left. But I write to you today to tell you that you have touched more than those who share your fate. You have left more than an argument in favor of death with dignity. You have inspired me to remember what needs to be the motivation behind my choices. What needs to be the driving force in my life.
I hope the knowledge that your story has touched others in so many ways brings a modicum of peace to your family, and a modicum of peace to you. I am not religious, but I do believe that life has a tendency to place heavier burdens on the strong, so they can show others how to carry them. You have shown us how to keep making choices that bring us what we need, even when we feel like it is all being taken away.