Don Grant: I’m voting YES for the love of my life, Yoka

Don and Yoka

Don Grant: I’m voting YES for the love of my life, Yoka

I first saw her when she walked into the Hotel bar in Paihia. I guess you could say it was ‘love at first sight’. She was on holiday with her mum from Belgium and I stayed there regularly as a tour coach driver.

We met two days later in Auckland on my day off. It really was love. She resigned her job as a lecturer in International Law and we settled in Riwaka, starting a farm growing culinary herbs. That was 1996. We had a wonderful life, lots of friends and social events, enjoying beautiful sunny Tasman Bay and the Nelson region. We married in 1997.

In 2010 Yoka was diagnosed with melanoma on the meninges, the layer of skin that covers your brain and spinal cord. It took a long time to establish exactly what it was. The disease was so rare that there had only been 68 recorded cases in the world since 1970.

As a successful academic and then businesswoman, she was used to planning and controlling what she did and she didn’t see why she couldn’t with this disease too.

But when you have a disease that affects the neurological system there is no controlling the pain. This started in late 2010; constant headaches that couldn’t be controlled and spinal pain that she felt all over her torso.

It gradually grew worse. The screaming was the worst part. She had to knock herself out with morphine tablets, and later liquid but the problem with that is the more you take the more your system can tolerate the drug.

She was eventually paralysed from the chest down. She very rarely complained, but I could see it in her eyes – when you’re deeply in love you can tell those things.

We both felt pretty helpless. If she had been living in her own country, she would have had access to an end of life choice. But she wanted to die in her adopted country, with her garden, her cat and me at her side.

If voluntary assisted dying had been legal then she wouldn’t have had to suffer the way she did.

We’d get people saying to us, you must be brave. She was really brave. I’d have gone out months earlier and stepped in front of a train. And many people do – they kill themselves much earlier than they have to because they’re scared, or in too much pain. This new law will stop that.

Compassion is allowing the person who is suffering the right to choose, should they wish, to end that suffering when things get too bad. That’s why it’s so important to vote YES in the End of Life Choice referendum on 19 September. To choose the dignified way to die. Why shouldn’t you be allowed to choose a good death over a bad one when you’re about to die?

Please. We’re all going to die. It may have not affected you yet, but you or someone you love may face terminal illness in the future – and will really need your YES vote. Your YES vote can stop unnecessary suffering for dying Kiwis. Please, vote YES.