Anniversary of Manitoban Susan Griffiths' assisted suicide
A wheelchair-bound Susan Griffiths traveled to Zurich in the spring of 2013 to receive the service
Susan Griffiths' dying moments were spent laughing under a warm sun and surrounded by the Swiss Alps.
But this Friday, one year later, her daughter still struggles with the memory of that dream-like day.
"Surreal, that's exactly what it was," recalls Natasha Griffiths. "Someday, I'll look at the photographs and the stories about it. But not yet. It's too hard."
It was just under three years ago that Susan was diagnosed with Multiple Systems Atrophy, a grueling and always fatal disease with no known cure.
Last year, the Winnipeg grandmother decided she'd rather not stick around for that fate, so she made the provocative decision to end her life ahead of time.
But she needed help to do that. And assisted suicide was and remains illegal here in Canada.
It is, however, legal in Switzerland.
After four final days with her children and grandchildren, she drank a fatal dose of sodium pentobarbital, lapsed into a coma and died.
"I just want to get it over with, really," Griffiths told the CBC, just days before her death. "I want the old me back and there won't be one, so I might as well finish as soon as possible."
It was a most intimate and traditionally personal event that thrust the otherwise private family into an internationally public spotlight.
Critics feared it sent a hurtful message to those who are disabled, infirm or vulnerable. A message that said their lives weren't worth living.
Fears that are perhaps founded, perhaps yet to be proven.
And fears the grieving family had to face.
"The media became involved and it started to…," says family friend Cindy Rublee, her voice trailing off as she recalled it. "There was a transition that was more complex than, than just the passing of Susan."
Natasha nods in agreement, recalling the grief of her own six children and worried they would be further hurt by public reaction.
"Not so much that I would be recognized, but that nasty, cruel comments would be made, not understanding the circumstances," she says. "If people knew that it was their grandmother who had made this choice, because it's still considered in some measure to be taboo by some people and certainly illegal."
In reality, Natasha says, most of the reaction they received was gentle and kind, and soon the family fell into the usual, bittersweet pattern of grieving.
Selling Susan's house, getting through all the firsts — like Christmas and birthdays — without her, and slowly but surely, remembering the stories of her life, instead of the story of her death.
At some point, they say, they'll wade back into the larger debate itself, around the ethics, the morals and the legalities of assisted suicides.
On Friday, however, they just want to get through another milestone — marking year one without Susan Griffiths.