Malcolm Bruce, or as I know him, Gramps, is thoughtful, intelligent and most of all intentional. Growing up, he was a stable and steadfast inspiration in my life. Before he makes decisions, he considers his place in the world, his relationship with it and how those choices would impact the people he cares about. That’s why when I heard he was considering euthanasia, more commonly known as assisted suicide, I knew he wasn’t thinking about it lightly.
My grandparents have an interesting relationship with death. Where, in most households, death is somewhat of a taboo point of conversation. In mine, death was discussed openly and sometimes with brutal honesty. My grandparents had both seen their parents pass, and ever since they knew exactly what they did and, more importantly, didn’t want out of their death process.
Mal wants to live and die in his home. He wants to be himself and not a shell of who he once was. When he passes he wants to be healthy, autonomous and full of life. His biggest fear is dying sick in a hospital bed. One of my earliest memories of my grandfather is a moment between he and mother chatting about regrets. He told her then that if he died today he would have been grateful for the life he had lived. He would die without regrets. That was over 15 years ago, and his attitude towards death has never changed.
In recent years, as his age has begun to catch up with him, he has talked more openly with the family about the possibility of euthanasia. Nothing is set in stone, but the conversations are getting harder to hear as they etche closer and closer to reality. Our family will support whatever he decides knowing that if he ever does make that final choice, he will do so with peace of mind and a rested soul.
I don’t know anyone who loves life as much as my grandmother, Kay Bruce. She grew up in a small town in Montana, and by her mid-twenties, she found herself a single mother of two daughters all while trying to complete a PhD program. At some points throughout her life, she has had more than a tough go at it. These experiences might have jaded some but not my grandmother. By the time Dr. Kay Bruce retired, she had been a nurse, educator and dean of a small community college where started a scholarship program to help those with the costs of education.
Since then, she has spent the last twenty years traveling the world with her husband Malcolm and her family. I don’t think my grandmother loves seeing different parts of the world — I think she loves meeting folks from every walk of life. She can, and often does, have a conversation with just about anyone. Regardless of age and language, Kay doesn’t know the meaning of the word stranger. She just has friends she hasn’t met yet.
Her contact list is miles long and spans the globe. When I was 8 years old, I was on a road trip with my siblings and parents. We broke down in a small remote town in Southern Oregon. As soon as my Kay got the news, she made a few calls and found an old friend who lived nearby. No matter where I am on the globe, if I ever get into a pinch, I know she knows someone close who would be willing to help the grandson of the sweet woman they met in another part of the world.
At a spry 80 years old, she is still the caretaker she always was. Even though my family tries to give her a break, get her off her feet and offer a helping hand, she has no plans on slowing down. She is a steadfast freight train that won’t let anyone get in her way.
She plays cards with her husband every night before bed and walks two laps around the block every morning while happily chatting with every neighbor she finds. If you’re in the house when she goes, the walk is mandatory for you too. We walk at a moderate pace, enjoying the air while she sprinkles in stories of the families nearby who recently moved in.
If nothing else, Kay is grateful. Like my grandfather, she wants to live her life right up to the end. She wants to spend her final days with family, old friends and having just as much fun as she had the first 80 years of her life.
My grandparents met at Cypress College in Southern California. Kay was the dean at the time and was looking for someone to help her build the school’s first computer lab. She had heard of a recent faculty member named Malcolm who knew about computers from his previous career. She decided to invite him for lunch to see if he could help her.
She paid ten dollars for both of their lunches. She’ll tell you for that ten dollars, she helped build one of the first community college-based computer labs in California that served thousands of students for decades. Malcolm will tell you for that ten dollars they also found 33 years of marriage and laughter.
Even though after that first meeting they quickly fell in love. They had both separated from previous marriages, so after they decided they wanted to get married, they spent six months planning out every possibility. How would they live if they split up? Where would they spend holidays? How would they spend their retirement? What do they want the final years of their lives to look like?
After a few years of dating and months of discussion, planning and excitement, they tied the knot. For the last 33 years, they have built a life together. All the while they fell deeper and deeper in love. For me and my siblings, their relationship showed us what love looks like. As they’ve gotten older and their physical and mental needs have changed, their love and support for one another is stays the same.
In recent years, Kay’s eyesight has declined, and Mal’s hearing loss has increased. In turn, they’ve started calling each other “the eyes” and “the ears” because together they have enough working senses for both of them. Even as the effects of age start settling in, the pair have never lost their sense of adventure and fun. They’ve now been to every continent and every U.S. state. If they ever find themselves at a theme park they’ll still hop on a few roller coasters — even if waiting in the lines hurts their feet.
At the end of the day, their love continues to grow for each other even after three decades of marriage. You can see it in their daily interactions. The subtle arm rubs when one passes behind the other. The smiles when they see one another at the dinner table. The way they look at each other says what words cannot describe. I’m not sure how many years they will have left, but I know that they will spend them happily together.