British Columbia·A Good Goodbye

'Taking control of your destiny:' B.C. man shares story of wife's assisted death

Storm Miller had been battling cancer for five years when she received a terminal diagnosis. Her husband, Dave Miller, has publicly shared the couple's experience with medically assisted death.

Storm Miller's husband supported her through an assisted death

Storm Miller, left, is remembered as an athlete, an avid gardener and an 'awesome wife' by her husband, Dave. (Dave Miller)

When Dave Miller first spotted his future wife in a military mess hall, he thought she was the most gorgeous girl he had ever seen.

Dave and Storm Miller got married in August 1983 and had military careers that took them across Canada. They finally settled their family in Comox, B.C., on Vancouver Island.

Storm spent eight years as an administrative clerk in the military, but ultimately left the service to take care of their two daughters. 

"Everyone loved her at her job," said Dave, who continued to be posted as far away as Afghanistan for his work as an air traffic controller. "She was destined for greatness, but she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom."

Dave describes Storm as an athlete, an avid gardener and an "awesome wife."

"She encouraged me to get an airplane, and follow my passions," he said.

It was a few months after Dave retired from the military in 2010 that the couple got news that changed their lives forever. At the age of 50, Storm had her first diagnosis of cancer. It was a lump in her breast.

Five years later, after multiple surgeries and chemotherapy sessions, Storm was diagnosed with stomach cancer. This time, the prognosis was terminal.

'It was horrible'

Dave broke the news to their two daughters, Sady, 30, and Millie, 25, making it clear that Storm did not have long to live.

A week later, Millie became engaged, and Dave hastily planned a wedding for the couple. He ended up booking the event at the beachside Kingfisher Resort outside of Comox. It took the last of Storm's strength to get through the day. 

"As soon as the wedding was done, I told my daughters, you know, your mother is going to give up now," Dave said.

By that time, Storm was unable to keep food down. Dave explained that people with stomach cancer can experience "the foamies," where they "throw up foam."

"That was her existence," Dave said. "It was horrible."

Storm Miller received an assisted death in her home in Comox, B.C. in August 2016, which included saying goodbye to old friends on the morning of her death. (Dave Miller)

Once Storm decided to get approved for medical assistance in dying (MAiD), Dave took on organizing her scheduled death.

'We picked the date'

After a 31-year career in the military, Dave approached the task with efficiency, practicality and the boundless compassion of a devoted husband. 

"I took control of her email. I took control of her Facebook accounts, checking the mail, phone calls," Dave said. "We picked the date based on the best day the kids could come."

Sady lived in Nanaimo and Milie was in Victoria, so it was a short trip to their parent's home in Comox. Their husbands and Sady's two daughters came to stay with Dave and Storm during the final 10-day waiting period. 

Dave recalled the disquieting details of the days leading up to Storm's assisted death.  

"I called the funeral home to let them know what time they were to come. I gave them half an hour. How long do you leave the body there?"

The most challenging tasks for Dave and Storm included deciding who to tell about Storm's approaching death and who to invite to share the last days of her life.

"It's pretty hard, picking who's going to be in the inner circle, and who's going to be on the outside," Dave said.

On the morning of Storm's procedure, she took a seat in their sunroom with Dave and Millie at her side.

After final consent from Storm, the doctor administered the lethal injection.

"I was a little surprised," Dave said. "It happened all too quickly. From the time they gave the injection, there was only seconds of consciousness."

Dave is grateful physician assisted death was an option for his wife.

Dave Miller bought his wife a bouquet of roses on the morning of her assisted death. (Dave Miller)

"For Storm, this was the ultimate step in taking control of your own destiny and not being a victim of cancer."

Dave admitted to having one minor regret about his experience with MAiD. During the final 10 days, the couple had a house full of family and friends, which meant Dave lost some private time with his wife.

"I didn't get much of a chance to say goodbye myself," Dave said. "It was not about me, it was about her. But I wanted her to know how I felt about her."

A positive outcome from a tragedy

Dave has shared his experience with a church group and had a video of his talk posted on YouTube. He said he retells his story to assist other who have questions.

"If I can help other people, that would be fantastic. It would be some kind of positive outcome from what was essentially a life tragedy."

Jeffrey Brooks, the co-chair of the Victoria chapter of Dying with Dignity, said it's important for families and partners of patients who are opting for MAiD to share their stories.

"The more of these stories that are shared, it informs the public of what their rights are, what their choices are,"  Brooks said.

Brooks gives a presentation called Assisted Dying 101: The Basics to community groups. He said there is big demand for the talks, which explain the criteria for MAiD and how to fill out the necessary forms.

"There is a lot of lack of information and misinformation out there. [among] the [medical] professionals, in the institutions and among the public."

To hear the full interview, click on the audio link below:

A Good Goodbye is a radio and digital series exploring medically assisted death in B.C. Tune into your local CBC Radio One morning show Jan. 29 to Feb. 1. 

About the Author

Jean Paetkau

Associate producer, CBC Victoria

Jean Paetkau is an award-winning writer who works as an associate producer for CBC Victoria. Her work includes writing for digital, TV, radio and print.