Marisa's last days: A family's experience with medically assisted death

Two days before dying with medical assistance, Quebecer Marisa Nini gathered her family for supper and a singalong. Videos of the gathering have struck a chord, offering a window into one family's emotional goodbye.

'For me, it was like she was leaving in peace,' Stephanie Nini says of sister's death

“I wanted to [shine] a light on people reuniting, being there for someone who’s suffering and leaving," said Stephanie Nini (right), seen here with her sister Marisa Nini, about sharing the videos. (Submitted by Stephanie Nini)

On June 24, two days before she died with medical assistance, Marisa Nini said goodbye with a supper and bedside sing along.

To the tune of That's Amore and Con te partirò, the 55-year-old Deux Montagnes, Que., woman with terminal colon cancer shared her last days with family and friends.

"It was the most beautiful, wonderful experience I've lived. And the saddest, at the same time," her sister, Stephanie Nini, told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

Videos of the family gathering have been viewed more than a million times on Facebook. Despite their personal nature, Stephanie says they capture her sister's strength and depicted an uplifting moment, something she wanted others to witness.

Marisa is one of several hundred Quebecers who have received medical aid in dying since the province made the practice legal in December 2015. The family's videos have struck a chord, offering a look at one family's emotional goodbye.

A difficult decision

A seamstress and mother of four, Marisa was an inspiration to Stephanie and many others who knew her, her sister said.

Stephanie (left) and Marisa share a moment. (Submitted by Stephanie Nini)
Last July she was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. She initially tried chemotherapy — three sessions, in hopes of extending her life — but, finding it taxing, turned to alternative medicines.

Eventually, however, the pain became too strong and doctors were not able to find medicine that could adequately subdue it.

Not wanting to prolong her suffering, Marisa decided to pursue assisted dying. Her decision was met with support from her family, Stephanie said.

"The children, the cousins, me and her best friend — everybody thought it was a good decision," she said.

Supper and song

While she was sick, Marisa was not always up to seeing visitors. But once choosing to pursue assisted dying, she decided to host a goodbye get together with family.

"That decision kind of freed her and so she decided just to invite everybody, and everyone would come and have a supper and everybody would eat together. She wanted everybody to have a good time," Stephanie recalled.

So on Friday, June 24, Marisa's children, siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews and more gathered in her Deux-Montagnes apartment for a goodbye.

Marisa lay in a hospital bed in the centre of the room, a blissful grin spread across her face.

Like many families, Marisa's features differences in opinion and lifestyle (a number of family members are Jehovah's Witnesses). But Stephanie says in spite of that, they came together to celebrate Marisa.

At one point, Stephanie recounts, one of their brothers decided to sing a song for Marisa, and then everyone started requesting songs. Marisa liked it and started making her own requests, launching an impromptu sing along.

Marisa Nini making pesto outside. (Submitted by Stephanie Nini)

Stephanie decided to film the moment because it was so intense; she wanted to keep it as a souvenir.

"For me personally, I don't have enough words to describe [it]," Stephanie recounted, her voice breaking. "I was in heaven."

An uplifting message

Stephanie says she wanted to share the videos to display her sister's strength at the end of her life.

"I wanted to show how strong she was and how peaceful she was before leaving. The fact that there were so many people there for her, loving her was because she gave so much out to the world, out to people," she explained.

Stephanie says that as someone who strives to constantly share positive messages, she also thought the videos could be uplifting.

"My vision was mostly a vision of unity and love, holding each other and being together for someone who's leaving," she added.

And the videos have resonated with people, she said. Stephanie says she cannot keep up with positive messages she's receiving.

"I can't handle any more the messages of people around the world thanking and saying how much they were a nice example and they want to do the same, or they would have happened the same way to their mom."

While the goodbye party has made an impact on so many that have viewed it, it was, first and foremost, important for Marisa, Stephanie said. 

"She even said she never thought that she would have so much love," said Stephanie. "She left that way knowing she was that much loved. And that's what makes me happy."