A well-lived life and a well-managed exit

Columnist Peter Leith shares a true short story from his collection.


After four children and 15 years of a deteriorating marriage, she finally told her husband, “If we stay together, I will end up hating you and that will be very bad for the children.” So they separated.

In a ‘too little too late’ belated display of sensibility, the husband assumed, at least in material terms, the ‘absent father’ role until all four children reached adulthood and she had sold the joint-names family home and bought a home of her own.

They remained in contact and, indeed, their personal relationship improved. Her feelings towards him never developed into hate.

With the help of the Whitlam government’s adult education policies, she had been able to gain the primary school teaching qualification denied her by early motherhood. She taught many grade levels until she retired.

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In her ‘spare time’, she remained the loving and caring mother and grandmother of four children and eight grandchildren. She even went overseas on one occasion to attend the wedding of one child.

After retiring, she retained her interest in education and once spent several years reading texts to a blind student doing a PhD.

She worked, usually in a voluntary capacity, at part-time and short-term jobs in museums, art galleries and aid agencies.

At the age of 75, she was diagnosed with melanoma and started treatment.

For the next six years she underwent regular and increasingly frequent treatments. Hours were spent connected to machines that ‘washed’ her blood. Periods of remission became increasingly short-lived. Eventually, she was told her condition was unlikely to ever respond to treatment; she would continue to deteriorate and the illness would, inevitably and ultimately, prove fatal.

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She began, in conjunction with her doctors and in a calm and meticulous way, to explore her end-of-life options.

Having decided on a course of action, she discussed her plans with her middle-aged children. They all indicated their wish to be with her ‘at the end’.

A month after her 82nd birthday, in her own home of many years and in the company of her four children, she drank a final toast to her own life and to the end of it.

Mission accomplished.

Do you support voluntary assisted dying? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below.


  1. It’s not about how long we live, but how well. My feeling is that we’ll know when we are ready to depart this physical realm and we should be able to do so without interference of any ‘authority’. Doctors should be working according to the wishes of the patient and assist. I saw a beautiful example recently of a good friend dying in hospital and choosing his death. He let all his friends know when he would die (stopping eating and drinking and letting nature take its course) and everyone had a chance to say a last goodbye in a meaningful and beautiful way. The staff at the hospital were supportive of his wishes, which was for me very encouraging to see. This should be the norm for all of us.

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