Nanoose Bay author Susan Pederson shows her book made up of undelivered notes she made to her best friend who was dying of cancer. She hopes what she felt and expressed can help others going through a similar situation. — Adam Kveton Photo

Nanoose Bay author publishes undelivered notes to dying friend

Writer discusses assisted death of best friend battling cancer

Christmas cheer is not what Nanoose Bay writer Susan Pederson thinks of at this time of year.

Not since the death nearly a year ago of her best friend, who was in the final stages of lung cancer through December, 2016.

After months of suffering, Beverly Reynolds chose to end her life through physician-assisted death on Jan. 11.

Reynolds had been given no more than a four per cent chance of surviving her cancer, said Pederson.

It was a terrible ordeal for Reynolds, but a difficult one for Pederson, as well. In an effort to cope, Pederson took to writing notes to her friend that she never delivered, wherein she expressed extremely difficult and sometimes guilt-inducing feelings about what her friend’s disease was doing to her.

In an effort to comfort those who are having the same feelings, or at least show them they are not alone, Pederson has published a book of those personal notes called “How Many Times Can You Say Good-bye?”

“It’s some pretty raw reading,” said Pederson.

“My counsellor was encouraging me to take days off from her cancer, and not think about it. There was also a point when I thought, ‘You know, just die already.’”

That feeling came both from seeing the pain her friend was in, and the effect it had on Pederson.

“Everything was based on, ‘I can’t do this because you might be dying,’” she said. “That’s a horrible way to feel about someone that you love.”

Pederson found she had no outlet for those feelings, and so she turned to writing.

“I was trying to keep it together for my family, but inside I was just feeling like I was dying, too,” she said. “So I had to write something, I had to put something somewhere because I couldn’t say to my 12-year-old daughter ‘I just feel like I’m dying, too.’ I just have to be making dinner.”

So she wrote her notes, about one each week, sometimes more, and often based on something Reynolds had said or something that had happened.

“Based on how her chemo was going or if she had hope of living that week,” Pederson said.

Through counselling, Pederson found that the feelings she expressed in her notes, despite making her feel awful, were common.

Still, she found few supports for people going through the death of a beloved friend, and felt she needed to let others know that they aren’t terrible people for having those same kinds of thoughts.

The book also offers insight into what watching someone go through an assisted death is like.

“Absolutely I’m pro (physician-assisted death),” said Pederson. “But you know, there is a bit of a hole there, because it is such a different death.”

As someone who has lost people close to her before, Pederson said the experience was unlike those losses.

“You don’t feel the same from the week before when you get the date — and I thought, ‘Well this will just take the shock out of it.’ But it doesn’t — to the time that you’re sitting there and you’re basically watching somebody kill somebody else.

“So absolutely I’m for it. But I think people need to be prepared that it feels very different. Not horrible.

“You are still left with the grief, but the overwhelming feeling is ‘Why couldn’t she have just stayed alive another day, another two days, another two weeks?’

“It’s a very selfish feeling.”

Pederson said she hopes that these sometimes brutally honest insights into what she went through might prepare others, and help them to not feel alone.

The book is available at Mulberry Bush Bookstores in Parksville and Qualicum Beach for $14.95.

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adam.kveton@pqbnews.com

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